The Halls of Extinction

Doctor Alex von Strikken, PhD, was one of the most well-respected scientists in the small and well-respected field of genetic engineering. He had begun his career in the relatively looked-down upon area of genetic tailoring, customizing people’s children for them as they grew in the womb, but quickly moved out of that distasteful area. Since then Dr. Strikken had been working in the government-run Species Revitalization Project, aka the Halls of Creation. He had been hired just in time to help put the finishing touches on the mammoth, and since then had assisted in recreating the dodo and the Tasmanian tiger. For the past three years, Strikken had been part of the Project Tyrant, the attempt to rebuild dinosaurs, so far unsuccessful but coming close to what was hoped to be a viable triceratops egg.

Dr. Strikken was known as having a gift for seeing ramifications, able to foresee with startling accuracy how genes interacted. Many laypeople assumed that genetic engineering was like using building blocks – just snap on a piece for wings, add an extra finger – despite the unimaginably greater complexity of DNA, despite the lack of actual instructions. DNA was more analogous to a parts list than a list of instructions. But for Dr. Strikken, it actually did work very much like building blocks.

Dr. Strikken was taking his lunch hour, alone, when the email arrived. His phone dinged softly to alert him, and the middle-aged scientist pulled it out, setting his sandwich down. Strikken scanned it, and his jaw dropped. “What…?” he gasped, the word sounding as though it had been torn from him.

The email read as follows:


To Dr. Alexander Strikken, PhD,

Your exceptional work on the Species Revitalization Project has nominated you for the Rebirth Correction Project. After a great deal of deliberation, you have been selected to be transferred to the RCP. Please report to your new workplace immediately. Your belongings have already been transferred.


It was unsigned, but came from the same address as his hiring notification. There was no doubting it.

The RCP, where problematic creations of the SRP and other genetic engineering projects, were corrected. Problems like the carrier pigeon, which had multiplied out of control after it’s rebirth. The bird had been curtailed with a carefully designed virus that gave its eggs a fifty-fifty chance of being normal or being sterile. When North-American bison had started to venture into populated areas, a parasite had been created to artificially give them a fear of humans. And there were worse things, animals and creations that hadn’t just been curtailed but entirely removed. The six-legged cats that had been so popular for a few years had soon become a plague, overhunting mice and rats and upsetting the ecosystem. A targeted virus had been used to wipe out all members of the species, and another had turned the birther cats into normal cats.

There was a reason that the RCP was called the Halls of Extinction. It was necessary work, but not pretty work, not publicized like that of the Halls of Creation. Not visible or loved by the public. In the Halls of Creation, thought Dr. Strikken, doing your job well meant seamlessly adding a new animal into the public’s lives. The Halls of Extinction did the opposite. Get rid of the dogs, all of them, before Bob and Jim and Susan notice the problem…

And that had actually happened, too, Dr. Strikken thought distastefully. A bioweapon had inverted the cultivated tameness and trust in humanity that had been bred into domestic dogs. It was an ingenious attack – the bacterium, carried by fleas, spread like wildfire across Europe, Asia, and America, dogs changing from calm, happy pets into savage beasts overnight. Dr. Strikken had to admit, it had been necessary for the Halls of Extinction to create a counter weapon. But the virus they had designed had been far too heavy-handed. It didn’t stop at the infected dogs, in fact it didn’t even stop at dogs in general, and for the past seven years the world had been entirely without canines of any sort. It had been far too transmissible, and because it had been rooted in the reproductive system it had hit every animal that could reproduce with each other. From dogs to wolves, wolves to coyotes, across the whole family. Nothing left.

Strikken hadn’t been part of the massive project to replace the species, but he knew about its results. It had been quite frenzied. First, wolves and coyotes and all the rest had been cloned from stored DNA samples and released into the wild. Unfortunately, the counter weapon hadn’t died along with the canine family, just gone dormant within the flea population, and it resurfaced to wipe out the clones. New species had had to be engineered to take their place in ecosystems across the globe – mainly from panthers, but also from raccoons and even rats. The replacements still weren’t accepted fully by most of the public. Nothing had yet replaced dogs, and Dr. Strikken personally doubted that anything ever would – at least, not within the vastly extended lifetime of those who remembered them.

Strikken knew the necessity of the Halls of Extinction, he really did. But they had gone too far then, and ever since… it wasn’t just him, everyone distrusted them. No one wanted to work for them if they could avoid it, which was probably why Dr. Strikken was being transferred – they needed more staff, but couldn’t get any from outside. Still, Strikken refused to be cast aside like this. He had worked in the Halls of Creation for 17 years. This couldn’t be allowed. He would just have to speak to the director of the Rebirth Correction Project and convince him of it. And so, unhappily, Dr. Strikken walked across the road to the Halls of Extinction.

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Motael’s Escape

Nicholas Dreyfus, better known to the world as Motael, set up his lab in preparation for the approaching soldiers. The famed supervillain had discovered that a small army of American soldiers were coming to apprehend him after his most recent escapade. His monitors showed three bodies coming down the corridor that led to his lab at this very moment.

Nick considered his strategy carefully. There was no way he could escape, not now. He had been found far too early – his teleporter wasn’t finished yet. He couldn’t flee in the plane which had brought him here – he was a good pilot, but not good enough to break through the blockade of jets circling the island even now. And trying to escape to the boat he occasionally sailed on was even more pointless – the scanner informed him that a squad of men were searching it already, even if he could have reached it. So he would have resist arrest, or else set up the arrest to help him in his trial…

The island which housed his lab was theoretically in international waters, but was on the very edge of U.S. territory. They could make a case for it being part of the States, so would likely be following procedure for an actual arrest, despite being military rather than police. That meant that they wouldn’t fire unless he fired first, officially resisting arrest. But if Nick could trick he soldiers into firing first, then he would be defending himself, which would be a great help in trial.

Of course, that meant he’d have to either dodge the bullets or somehow block them.

Fortunately, he knew just how to do it. In the few minutes remaining to him before the soldiers would round the corner, he set up his experimental force field and activated it. It was invisible except from very sharp angles, when the light-bending effects of the spacial warp would become noticeable. The drawback, of course, was the enormous power drain it caused. By shutting down the mechanics from most of the island and connecting the field to the main power grid, it should be able to run for a little under two minutes before the entire system was overloaded.

And just in time, too. Nick grabbed an assault rifle he had modified and stepped behind the field mere seconds before a trio of soldiers came through the door.

“Freeze, Motael!” shouted one of them, raising an assault rifle of some sort. “Drop the weapon!”

Nick ignored his prattle in favor of appraising the soldiers. One, with an assault rifle, was a captain, young and not very well trained judging by the weak, unsteady grip he held the rifle with. He had his finger on the trigger, and was tense enough to shoot at any moment. The captain was close enough that he’d likely hit, but only by luck.

The second soldier was an older corporal holding a shotgun, currently pointed at the floor at Nick’s feet. His finger was loosely pressed against the trigger guard, ready to fire at a moment’s notice. If startled, he’d probably turn to face whatever had surprised him, raising the shotgun and firing at the same time. Clever. It wouldn’t work with a pistol, or even a semi-automatic weapon, but a shotgun would splay its rounds in an arc across the enemy. Not very accurate, of course, but fast and effective.

The third wasn’t a soldier, it was a hero. Mad Cap Jack, to be exact. He was mostly human: his only powers were his supernatural reflexes as well as his surprising speed and strength, plus the vaguely defined ‘super-vision’: apparently the ability to see in all directions without turning his head. Mad Cap was mainly a tech hero, though: along with the gadgets and not-quite-cybernetic enhancements he favored, he was an expert in the field of alien technological analysis. Essentially, he was very good at understanding strange technologies. Did the government think that Nick was an alien?

“Drop the weapon!” the young captain shouted again, voice unsteady. “Drop it or I’ll blow your brains out, I swear I will!”

“Captain Maran, stand down!” Mad Cap snapped. “We’re still in the U.S, and he hasn’t fired on us.”

Shit, Nick thought as Maran began to lower his rifle. The field would collapse in moments. He had to get one of the two soldiers to fire before his protection collapsed. “Knew he was chicken,” he muttered, just loud enough for Maran to hear.

“Bastard!” Maran said, raising the rifle again and firing as Mad Cap gritted his teeth in anger. The bullets ricocheted harmlessly off the force field, but the noise startled the corporal, who fired, just as Nick had suspected.

“Damn it,” Mad Cap whispered as the soldiers calmed and stopped firing. He did a double-take when he saw that Nick was unhurt, the bullets hovering in midair where the field had frozen space, but recovered quickly enough – after all, the superhero had surely seen stranger things in his time. He stepped forward, raising his open palms in a gesture of peace. “Listen, we don’t have to fight, Motael. Just come with us quietly, and –”

“It’s too late, Jack,” Nick interrupted. “You’ve fired on a civilian who offered you no violence. What I’m about to do is just self-defense.” It was timed perfectly: as he raised his modified assault rifle, the field overloaded the generator, and the lights cut out. He fired a quick burst of three shots at where the captain’s head had been moments before, then threw himself aside as the corporal’s shotgun roared.

A moment later, there was a chemical-sounding hiss and a flash of blue light that illuminated the area, casting reddish shadows around the platform Nick had taken cover behind. “Nicholas Dreyfus!” Mad Cap called. “You’ve just murdered an innocent man!”

“He shot at me first,” Nick whispered into the microphone in the bone-white skull mask he wore, allowing his voice to be relayed through the speakers that were already beginning to come back online. His voice would seem to come from everywhere, leaving his actual position a mystery. “That’s not murder, Jack, that’s self-defense. The way I see it, there’s no one innocent here.” He kept an eye on the side of the platform. The corporal would probably be stepping around it soon. Assuming that they split up and searched the half of the lab they were closer to, Mad Cap would be among the fuel canisters around now, while the corporal…

“You were already a murderer, Motael!” the corporal said from the other side of the platform. “I just didn’t think I’d see you do it-” he was cut off by a trio of bullets passing through his skull as he rounded the corner. But while Nick’s rounds, subsonic and not propelled by gunpowder after his modifications to the gun, were silent and wouldn’t give away his position, the corporal’s were another story. The shotgun, fortunately pointed away from Nick, roared as the dying man jerked in death.

“Corporal!” Nick heard Mad Cap call from the other side of the room. “What happened?”

“Oh, don’t worry about the corporal,” Nick said into the mic, his voice still booming forth from the speakers. “He’s certainly not worried about anything. Not anymore, that is.”

“Damn it, Motael!” Mad Cap shouted. “Just come quietly!”

“I thought you liked a fight?” Nick asked as he bent down to take a fragmentation grenade from the corporal’s body, ignoring the splatters of blood. “Isn’t that why they call you Mad?”

“Don’t believe everything you read,” Mad Cap said, almost too softly for Nick to hear.

Nick considered this for a moment, then shrugged. He punched the triggering button and lobbed it in Mad Cap’s direction, stepping around the platform a moment later with his rifle ready.

The was a muffled explosion from what looked to be an upside-down metal bowl, presumably one of Mad Cap’s gadgets. The hero himself had clearly just tossed it, his hand still stretched towards the bowl. Mad Cap grabbed a metal disk from his belt and threw it towards Nick before he could aim and fire. Damn that enhanced speed!

Nick only barely managed to dodge aside. The disk began expanding into something as it fly past him, but Nick didn’t stop to see what it was. Instead, he brought the scope to his eye and aimed. Just before he fired, though, Mad Cap flipped his hands outwards and there was a bright flash of blue chemical light, blinding him. He pulled the trigger anyway, but when he lowered his gun and blinked away the spots, the hero was gone.

Nick began turning quickly, scanning for Mad Cap’s distinctive red suit with his rifle ready to fire. He spotted a flash of red and pulled the trigger, but it was just a hologram, produced by another one of those damn metal disks. A moment later, Mad Cap slammed into him, tearing his gun away and slamming a disk into it – the rifle was ripped into two pieces as the disk spun like a buzzsaw.

Mad Cap tossed the two halves of the rifle aside with a growl. “Now surrender, Motael,” he ordered.

“Not likely.”

Mad Cap tossed another metal disk at Nick, but this time, rather than sidestepping, he stepped forward, catching it as it began to expand and throwing it back at the hero. It finished expanding and several long metallic ropes exploded outwards from it, clearing trying to wrap around Mad Cap, who fell backwards and rolled back to his feet.

Nick snatched a power drill from a nearby shelf and threw an empty flask from another shelf at Mad Cap, who blocked it with a large round shield that had just expanded outwards from yet another disk. The hero charged, trying to shield-slam him, but the supervillain stepped to the side and pulled the shield forward, trying to drill into Mad Cap’s side with his other hand. Mad Cap twisted, releasing the shield for a moment and rolling around Nick’s arm, then grabbed the shield on the other side and used it to twist Nick’s arm, forcing him to release it.

Nick stepped back, observing the angry hero with disdain, then slipped a customized laser pointer into his hand from where it had sat, working but not yet placed within its casing, for nearly a month. He brought the setting up to the maximum, which could cause mild burns, as his other hand more obviously groped around the shelf behind him. When he threw a rack of test tubes at Mad Cap, it came as no surprise to the superhero, but his charge forward a moment later did.

Even with his incredible reflexes, Mad Cap was too startled by Nick’s unexpected attack to do anything but try and hold him off with his shield. Nick’s hand slipped around the shield’s edge and stuck the laser pointed in his face. Click.

Mad Cap screamed in pain and thrust the shield forward, forcing Nick back, and clutched at his face with his other hand. Nick smirked. He had gotten the laser right into his enemy’s eye, half-blinding him.

The hero didn’t stop fighting, though, rushing forward and flailing with the arm that held the shield, his other still pressed over his burnt eye. Nick just chuckled, easily sidestepping the charge, and knocked Mad Cap to the ground with a brutal kick to the ribs.

“You’re not going to win this, you know,” Nick said, crouching over the whimpering Mad Cap. “Not with only one eye. And definitely not,” the supervillain grabbed Mad Cap’s shield, tearing it from his grasp and throwing it aside, then bent the arm backwards until he heard a crack as it popped loose from Mad Cap’s shoulder. “with only one arm,” Nick finished as Mad Cap screamed in pain. “Are you done yet?”

The hero cried beneath his crimson mask, his face glistening, but still tried to kick toward Nick. He sighed. Oh well. “If you won’t surrender, I suppose there’s only one thing left to do.” He reached down to take a disc from Mad Cap’s belt, but then paused. “Is that what I think it is?” The supervillain took a small globe from where it hung off of Mad Cap Jack’s Belt, and laughed. It wasn’t a chilling, hollow laugh, or even an insane, maniacal laugh. It was the pleased laugh of someone who was genuinely enjoying themselves.

“The one I built – that is, the one I was building, but didn’t finished because I was rudely interrupted – was much larger than this,” Nick said to Mad Cap conversationally. Mad Cap whimpered in response, and the super villain continued as though he hadn’t noticed. “This is quite amazing. Did you build it yourself?” Another whimper. “Let them know I’d simply love to meet the designer.” Nick held up the metal globe to his skull mask, pushed in a button, and said “New York. Override Gamma-C, Styx Terminal. That code signals a bot I put in the public network to drop me off in one of my own bases,” he explained to the hero where he lay.

Bluish light began to gather around Nick’s body as he waved cheerily to Mad Cap’s prone form. “This was fun, Jack. I’d say ‘let’s do it again sometime,’ but, well, teleportation. You know how it is. That costume of yours won’t stand up to the -” At that point, he vanished, and there was a large explosion, filling the entire room and engulfing the superhero. When the shockwave passed, there was nothing left but some reddish smoke.

Working With Myself

It all began on a normal, quiet morning as I sat in my favorite armchair, ruminating on my favorite subject – time travel.

I myself was only a humble electrical engineer, far from the lofty heights of theoretical physics where time travel could be found, but I understood the basics. Teleportation was well understood, and had been around for over twenty years – I myself had built a teleportation gate during my time in college. In theory, time travel would work on the same principles, but rather than just displacing the target in three dimensions, it would displace the target in four – the three spacial dimensions of height, width, and depth, and the fourth dimension of time.

Of course, the difficulty in building a time machine lay not in understanding the principles, but in applying them. To build a time machine would require crafting in three dimensions a machine that operated in four. So although many had tried to build a time machine that worked, no one had succeeded.

As I said, I was sitting in my favorite armchair on Sunday morning just after breakfast, thinking about these facts and the latest highly publicized failure, when there was a crackling blue mist in the middle of the room and a perfect copy of myself stepped out.

“Hello, me,” said the new me. “I’m going to build a time machine, and I’m going to help me.”

I blinked, startled and confused , and opened my mouth, but the new me interrupted before I could speak.

“Listen, I know you’re confused,” said the duplicate. “I’ve been exactly where you are. Let me explain.”

“Who are you?” I demanded. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m you,” he said with a smile. “In about one week. And as I said, I’m here to build a time machine with myself.”

I furrowed my brow. “You traveled back here, using the time machine that you’re going to build with my help… so that once the time machine is finished, I can travel back to do the same thing?”

“You’ve got it,” future-me agreed. “I’ll prove it for you, of course – my signature is the same as yours, and I remember everything you thought of. Are thinking of.”

“We need some new pronouns.”

“Yes.”

It didn’t take long for the me who had traveled from the future to prove that either he was from the future or he had been very thorough in his impersonation – he knew all my passwords, his signature matched mine, and his fingerprints and voice were close enough to fool my computer into unlocking for him. I still wasn’t quite convinced, though. Clones could be grown fast enough these days to make him physically identical to me, and everything else was just acting – although there was really no reason I could think of for someone to try and trick me like this. But teleportation and impersonation was still a far more likely explanation than time travel.

“Are we ready for the final test yet?” he asked me as we sat across the table from each other. He seemed kind of bored.

“You tell me,” I challenged him.

“Alright. You’re about to ask me to guess a random number that you’ve just thought of, which is a rather silly test as it wouldn’t stick in the mind for a whole week, but this answer did. The next test was to tell you what the design of your next product entails . You haven’t checked your email yet, but the answer is a capacitor for that Big Bang experiment Harvard is doing. After that you were going to ask me what tomorrow’s lottery numbers are.” He took an index card out from his pocket, six numbers written on it in thick black marker, and handed it to me as I stared. “Someone already bought them, though, sorry.”

“I’m… going to check that email.” I pulled out my phone and was halfway to the email app before he interrupted.

“Don’t bother, it won’t be sent for another…” he glanced at his watch, then shook his head and looked up at where a clock hung on the wall. “another half-hour. Now come on, we have a week of vacation to build this thing before I get back to work and you’ll be sitting where I am.”

I interrupted him before he could continue further. “Hold on, what makes you think that your… my… our attempt at a time machine will work any better than anyone else’s?”

“The proof stands right in front of you,” the other me declared. “But the answer to the question of why it will work is…” he paused. “I’m not entirely certain why ours worked, actually, as the version of me from the future, that would be me, from your perspective, never adequately explained it to me. I have theories, formed over the past week, but…”

“Let me hear them,” I told him.

“We don’t have time right now,” he said, glancing at a notebook and the clock. “We need to head out to the car and buy the materials.”

I wondered what was in that notebook as I stood and made for the door and the little box where I kept my wallet and keys.

“Don’t bother,” said the future-me, standing and twirling a set of keys – my keys – on his finger. “I’m driving.”

“Why are you driving?” I demanded as he strode out of the house.

“Seniority!” he cried, almost singing the word. “I’m a week older than you.” Then he laughed. “You have no idea how good it feels to be the one saying that. Not yet, at least.”

“You-”

“More importantly,” he said with a wry grin as I glared, “I know where we’re going.”

Two hours later, I was helping load my trunk with aluminum sheeting and rods while I explained to myself why we were shopping at the hardware store that was farther from the house.

“Yes, it has a generally smaller selection,” the future me agreed, “but that’s offset by you not being a regular customer. Do we want to deal with people commenting that they didn’t know you had a twin brother?”

“No,” I said. “But that’s not the only reason we drove for an hour and a half to get out here, is it? You bought something while I was looking at that set of drill bits – something that isn’t at the closer store?”

“Guilty,” he admitted. “But I didn’t find out until Wednesday, and if I could survive waiting for no reason other than future-me remembering he had, then so can you.”

I rubbed my temples. “Do we ever come up with those new pronouns?”

“Sorry, no.”

When we got back home, I was ordered, again by virtue of seniority, to copy a file from the future me’s flash drive to the computer and print it out, without opening it. “It’ll be more impressive that way,” he told me. As the disposable flash drive was helpfully labeled ‘time machine plans’ I assumed that was what it contained.

I left the old printer rattling and returned to the sitting room to find myself lying back comfortably in my favorite armchair, notebook in hand. He was writing something down, but snapped the notebook shut and slipped the pen into his pocket as I entered.

“I can hear the printer,” he said. “I know it isn’t finished. Also, your jaw isn’t on the floor.”

“It can’t be that impressive, and that’s my seat.”

“Seniority.”

“…fine. But since that old printer takes way too long to print even one page, tell me your theories on why the time machine will work.”

“Let me think on that,” he said lightly. “No.”

“Why not?” I asked. “Is there a real reason, other than that’s how you remember it?”

“Well, trying to avoid a paradox seems like a pretty good reason to me,” he retorted, seemingly a bit defensive.

“A bit annoying, you mean.”

“I’ve been there, and believe me it’s more fun from this end.”

“You are the most aggravating…” I stopped as I realized that I was literally insulting myself, and he laughed.

“Listen, let’s order some pizza,” he suggested. “My treat.”

“Our treat, our credit cards are linked to the same account-”

“Details, details! Let’s order some pizza, we’ll play some video games while we wait for the printer to finish, and after dinner you can have your mind blown.” He smirked. “Remember, I’ve been there too… We can do the basic frame tonight.”

I had a sudden thought as he reached for a phone. “Where are you going to sleep?” I asked suspiciously, eyeing him where he sat in my favorite armchair. “You aren’t going to take the bed and claim seniority, are you?”

“We’re literally the same person. We can share.”

I was speechless.

He laughed at the look of stunned silence on my face. “Don’t worry, I’m not that cruel. I’ll sleep on the couch.”

Just under an hour later, I tried to make sense of what I was looking at as I stared at the blueprints the old printer had laboriously produced . There were a lot of them, spilling out across the paper in a rather confusing fashion.

“Will you stop that irritating count-down?” I snapped at my older self, who smiled.

“But of course,” he said, stopping the countdown from 83 he had started when I picked up the sheaf of paper. “It may help to know that there’s a picture on the last page.”

I looked through the blueprints for a few moments more, recognizing most of the pieces as parts of a teleporter, but put together in a way that made no sense. Unless I was reading the measurements entirely wrong… “This can’t be right, some of these parts pass through each other!” I objected.

“17,” he said smugly. “Look at the picture.”

I looked. It showed me standing with myself next to the finished time machine – the machine was an awful lot smaller than it had any right to be, not much larger than a doorframe. A teleporter, which the technology was based on, was the size of a trailer truck! Hell, a Gammet-Edelman transformer alone, which was a key part of a teleporter, was bigger than –

“Oh.” I said, getting it. “Oh! That’s clever!”

“You see it?” he asked.

“I think so. But how did you get it to work? Building a four-dimensional machine when we’re three-dimensional ourselves…”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I’m going to figure it out at some point this week. I’d tell you, but…”

“Right. Paradox.”

It was an angle no one had ever tried before, I mused later that night. We had built the basic frame from the aluminum we purchased that day before collapsing into bed, but I couldn’t sleep yet, although I suspected that one week older, I was sleeping peacefully on the couch.

Previous attempts at time machines had tried to build three-dimensional machines that affected the fourth dimension, like cutting a piece of paper into a shape that would let it move a marble up and down. But no flat paper can move anything in a perpendicular plane.

However, this time machine was going to work because it would exist in four dimensions. Somehow, our three-dimensional materials would be folded into four, like folding a paper into a spring. No longer flat, it would have the same size overall, but the flat part would look smaller if you were two-dimensional. That was why the machine had looked smaller, in the picture, than was logically possible – a three-dimensional camera couldn’t see the four-dimensional parts.

“However we accomplish it,” I said to myself.

By Wednesday night we had built three different outer frames for the machine, following the plans brought back by my future self. Each was almost identical, from screw placement to paint detailing, but contained a different electrical layout.

“So,” I said to myself as I sat at my table, eating a burger.

“Yeah?” I answered, eating a hot dog.

“Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m going to ask,” I said. “It’s Wednesday.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked to me like a black bar with glowing green numbers on it. “The closer store doesn’t sell these.”

“A coordinate finder?” I said, raising an eyebrow. They were occasionally used in conjunction with teleporters. Normally a teleporter worked on an offset, instantly changing something’s location to a certain distance and angle from the teleporter itself. However, they could also be used to set something to a certain set of spacial coordinates – the coordinate finders gave out a set of coordinates in three dimensions that a teleporter could send to at any point, as the coordinates would be swept along with the gravity well of the Earth and not degraded by time.

“The last few parts of the machine needs to be time traveled in at an offset,” he explained. “It’s, well, most of it, actually. They’ll get traveled in, completing the time machine, and then we have to use the time machine to travel back the parts we built to complete the time machine.”

I rubbed my forehead. “Does this make more sense after you’ve gone back in time?”

“Nah, you just know what to say,” he confessed.

“Okay, so… building a time machine requires collaborating with someone who already has a time machine,” I said. “Would that be why no one has ever finished one before; they never thought of collaborating with themselves in the future?”

“Stanford, three years ago,” he denied. “They tried something similar. I don’t recall the details, though.”

“That’s right,” I said, confused again. “They wanted to have a time machine sent wholesale, then duplicate it. They never got one.”

We argued for another half hour before giving up and going to bed. As I told myself, the real work began tomorrow.

On Thursday, I started to wire the electronics into each of the frames, while my future self was writing code – another piece of information carried back from the future, with no apparent origin. After he finished, he printed it out and tucked it into his notebook, tearing up the sheet he had been copying from.

On Friday, we were ready to receive, then send the parts which would overlay each other. There were three outer frames that needed to be traveled back in time to connect to the central doorframe, all being sent into the same location.

“I’m not entirely sure what it means,” my older self confessed to me, “but we’re going to be sending them off at 90 degree, 180 degree, and 270 degree offsets to normal reality. Our guess is-”

“That the four-dimensional shape is roughly circular, with our three-dimensional shapes being located at 0 degrees on the axis.” I interrupted.

“Hey, I should get to say it,” he said, annoyed. “Seniority.”

We used the coordinate finder to check where the location of our central doorframe was, then waited for a minute or two.

There was a crackling blue mist around the frame, which dissipated, leaving absolutely nothing changed. One minute later, it happened again. The third time, though, the blue mist remained, stretched out in a thin skein across the center of the frame.

“We did it,” I breathed, having trouble believing it. “We really-”

“Picture time!” cried the other me. “Front and center, come on. This is your accomplishment!”

So I stood, still feeling a little dazed, as I took a picture of myself. This was the picture, I supposed, that would be brought back in time.

“Okay,” said the older me, “let’s get to work. I wrote down the times that the pieces appeared, so we just have to manhandle our pieces into the final product and send them off.”

I looked at the page of his notebook where he had three times written in heavy black marker: 8:30, 8:31, and 8:32; then at his hand, where he held a pencil. He shrugged.

So we carried the three identical shells over, programmed the time machine, and it was a simple matter of subtraction to send them back in time to the correct moments.

“Tomorrow,” he said to me, “it’s your turn.”

I had never been so excited for the next day.

But the next morning, it turned out that time traveling wasn’t as simple as crossing the border. In fact, it was a lot more complicated. Now was the time when many of the oddities I had noticed about my older self came to light.

First, he let me see the contents of his notebook, containing notes on what he had done in the past. “Be very careful not to let your past self see the inside,” he warned me. It held the important times to remember, along with the code the time machine ran on, printed out on my old, slow printer. There was a record of all our conversations as well as a spreadsheet carefully keeping track of all the purchases that we had made, both related to the machine and not. A listing of the necessary parts. Everything.

“Go out to a convenience store and buy,” he glanced at the last few entries in the spreadsheet, purchases not yet made. “a standard plain red AlanCorp brand notebook, that’ll become this; a disposable 8 gigabyte MemDISC flash drive; and a water bottle.”

“A water bottle?” I asked incredulously.

He tapped the very last line: one pure spring water bottle. “I’m thirsty,” he said.

“We have water here.”

“Seniority.”

“You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to saying that,” I muttered as I grabbed my keys and headed for the car.

When I got back, I began hand-copying the contents of the old notebook into the new, while the other me, soon to be the only me, copied the plans for the time machine onto the new flash drive.

“I can’t just take yours back,” I remarked to him, “because if I did, then they would enter into an infinite loop, and minor damage would build up until they were destroyed.” I had noticed that while the new notebook was pristine, the one that had already time traveled was bent and had crumbled papers.

“That’s right,” he agreed. “For a similar reason, I can’t go back to enter the loop again.”

The last step of the preparation was to look up and record Monday’s lottery numbers on an index card in thick black marker, slipping it into my pocket, then, with some ceremony, transfer the papers containing the code for the time machine into my own notebook.

“I’m ready,” I told my older self, and he nodded. A quick double-check of the spacial coordinates, and then he set the time machine to send me backwards exactly six days.

I took a breath, and stepped through the doorway.

There was a loud crackle, buzzing in my ears like a thousand bees at once, and then it was gone, leaving nothing behind but ringing in my ears and the rather unpleasant taste of copper in my mouth. I wanted to spit as the blue that filled my eyes began to part, revealing myself sitting in my favorite armchair, open mouthed with shock, but I remembered, and knew that I couldn’t.

“Hello, me,” I told my younger self. “I’m going to build a time machine, and I’m going to help me.”

He just stared in shock and confusion, so I continued.

“Listen, I know you’re confused,” I told him. “I’ve been exactly where you are. Let me explain.”

“Who are you?” he asked. I could see a touch of fear – I remembered a firm demand. How odd. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m you,” I said with a smile, to assuage the fear I must have been repressing. “In about one week. And as I said, I’m here to build a time machine with myself.”

He furrowed his brow, taking the statement as a puzzle and working it out instead of becoming more afraid. “You traveled back here, using the time machine that you’re going to build with my help… so that once the time machine is finished, I can travel back to do the same thing?”

“You’ve got it,” I agreed. “I’ll prove it for you, of course – my signature is the same as yours, and I remember everything you thought of. Are thinking of,” I corrected myself.

“We need some new pronouns,” he pointed out.

“Yes.”

It took quite a while before I satisfied myself that I was from the future. I had to use my fingerprints and voice password to unlock the computer, re-login to all of the websites I was signed up on, and access my bank account, then copy my signature next to his ten times before he agreed that I was probably from the future. Of course, I knew he wasn’t entirely convinced, but he soon would be.

“Are we ready for the final test yet?” I asked him, suppressing a yawn, as we sat down at the table.

“You tell me,” he challenged.

“Alright. You’re about to ask me to guess a random number that you’ve just thought of, which is a rather silly test as it wouldn’t stick in the mind for a whole week, but this answer did. The next test was to tell you what the design of your next product entails . You haven’t checked your email yet, but the answer is a capacitor for that Big Bang experiment Harvard is doing. After that you were going to ask me what tomorrow’s lottery numbers are.” I took the index card with the numbers from my pocket, and tried to hand it to him, but he was just staring. I dropped it on the table instead, and he reached out and took it with fingers that trembled slightly. “Someone already bought them, though, sorry.”

“I’m… going to check that email.” He pulled out his phone and had already unlocked it before I remembered that we were running out of time.

“Don’t bother, it won’t be sent for another,” I glanced at my watch, then, mentally slapping myself – my watch was still set a week in the future – looked at the clock on the wall instead. “another half-hour. Now come on, we have a week of vacation to build this thing before I get back to work and you’ll be sitting where I am.”

“Hold on,” he said. “What makes you think that your… my…” my younger self floundered for a moment before regaining his footing. “Our attempt at a time machine will work any better than anyone else’s?”

“The proof stands right in front of you,” I pointed out. “But the answer to the question of why it will work is…” I stopped. Why had it worked, when no other attempts had? I hadn’t managed to think about it, despite the scripted words tumbling from my mouth. “I’m not entirely certain why ours worked, actually, as the version of me from the future, that would be me, from your perspective, never adequately explained it to me. I have theories, formed over the past week, but…”

“Let me hear them,” he demanded.

“We don’t have time right now,” I claimed, glancing at my notebook and the clock – we didn’t, but I really needed to figure out why it had worked… “We need to head out to the car and buy the materials.” My younger self headed for the door, but I interrupted him, just as I remembered being interrupted. “Don’t bother,” I told him, twirling the keys I had brought back from the future on my finger. “I’m driving.”

“Why are you driving?” he demanded as I walked out of the house.

“Seniority!” I declared with a wide smile. “I’m a week older than you.” I couldn’t help but break out into laughter. “You have no idea how good it feels to be the one saying that. Not yet, at least.”

“You-” he spluttered.

“More importantly,” I informed him as he subsided, “I know where we’re going.”

Two hours later, he was helping to load the car, arguing with me about coming to the farther hardware store.

“Yes, it has a generally smaller selection,” I agreed, “but that’s offset by you not being a regular customer. Do we want to deal with people commenting that they didn’t know you had a twin brother?”

“No,” he said, grudgingly. “But that’s not the only reason we drove for an hour and a half to get out here. You bought something while I was looking at that set of drill bits – something that isn’t at the closer store?”

“Guilty,” I said with a smile, remember my annoyance at what I was about to say. “But I didn’t find out until Wednesday, and if I could survive waiting for no reason other than future-me remembering he had, then so can you.”

He rubbed his forehead. “Do we ever come up with those new pronouns?”

“Sorry, no.”

Once we got back home, I asked him to take my flash drive, copy the file on it to the computer, and print it out. “Don’t look at it before printing or while it’s printing, though,” I told him sternly. “It’ll be more impressive that way.” I sat down in the armchair and took out my notebook, planning to try and figure out why our time machine had worked.

I was about to start writing a list of qualities we had had when I remembered why I couldn’t do that. If I did, then my younger self would copy it into his notebook at the end of the week, and thus never write it. I slapped myself in the forehead, and went to fetch a piece of paper.

Using the notebook as a table, I wrote the heading: WHY THE TIME MACHINE WORKED, and was about to start really thinking when I heard my younger self returning. I closed the notebook and stuck the pen in my pocket.

“I can hear the printer,” I said, a little irritated at being interrupted, “I know it isn’t finished. Also, your jaw isn’t on the floor.”

“It can’t be that impressive, and that’s my seat,” he told me.

“Seniority.” I smiled. Once again, being able to say that cheered me up.

“…fine. But since that old printer takes way too long to print even one page, tell me your theories on why the time machine will work.”

“Let me think on that,” I said, trying to keep the light tone in my voice while I tried to remember how the older me had stalled. “No.”

“Why not?” he asked bitterly. “Is there a real reason, other than that’s how you remember it?”

Yes, that was it! He had just kept putting it off by saying, “Well, trying to avoid a paradox seems like a pretty good reason to me.” I hoped I had gotten the wording right. I would check later.

“A bit annoying, you mean.”

“I’ve been there, and believe me it’s more fun from this end.” That was a lie, I thought.

“You are the most aggravating…” He stopped, realizing that he was insulting himself, and I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Listen, let’s order some pizza,” I suggested. “My treat.”

“Our treat, our credit cards are linked to the same account-”

“Details, details! Let’s order some pizza, we’ll play some video games while we wait for the printer to finish, and after dinner you can get your mind blown.” I smiled kindly. “Remember, I’ve been there too… We can do the basic frame tonight.” I reached for the phone to call up the nearest pizza place.

“Where are you going to sleep?” he asked suddenly, eyeing me. “You aren’t going to take the bed and claim seniority, are you?”

“We’re literally the same person,” I joked, still in a good mood. “We can share.” He sputtered again, and I laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m not that cruel. I’ll sleep on the couch.”

Just under an hour later, I checked my notebook as my younger self fetched the blueprints from the printer. 83 seconds until realization, I read, and nodded. “Okay, you can look at them now,” I told my other self, and he flipped the blueprints over and began looking at them in confusion. “83… 82… 81…”

I got all the way to 74 before he snapped at me to stop, but I continued counting in my head. At 17, he spoke.

“This can’t be right,” he objected. “Some of these parts pass right through each other!”

“17,” I said smugly. “Look at the picture.”

He flipped it over, and I saw the picture of me, standing next to the machine that had sent me here. He just stared at it as I continued to count down. The moment I got to 0, he suddenly exclaimed, “Oh. Oh! That’s clever!”

“You see it?” I asked.

“I think so. But how did you get it to work? Building a four-dimensional machine when we’re three-dimensional creatures…”

“I don’t know,” I confessed. “But I’m going to figure it out at some point this week. I’d tell you, but…”

“Right. Paradox.”

Later that night, I finally had time to consider why our machine had worked. The how, I roughly understood: it was a teleporter that had four dimensions that it could change, the three spacial dimensions plus time. And it was able to do that, unlike previous attempts at the same thing, because it existed in all four of those dimensions, not just in three.

And yet… how had we been able to do it? Why was it possible for me and myself to build the time machine? Surely, others had come up with the same idea – in fact, I remembered my older self reminding me about Stanford’s attempt at it. But they had never received a time machine. And attempts to hold conventions for time travelers had only received pranksters and hoaxes.

Suddenly, I saw it – or at least, I thought I did. I had to check the notebook to see if my hunch was correct.

Sure enough, there was an index card slipped in over the instructions left for me, telling me how to set the time machine. It told me to add an offset of 1 degree when sending myself back in time, and had my signature on it.

So I was no longer a simple, three-dimensional figure. I felt the same, but of course it was my relationship to everything else that was different. Like a piece of paper held at the slightest angle to another. It may look just the same from above, but it can do things the flat paper can’t.

Like build a time machine, perhaps.

By Wednesday night, the outer frames for the machines were finished, although they didn’t have their wiring in yet. I felt as though I was on autopilot as I followed the script in my notebook, explaining to my younger self why I had bought a coordinate finder at the hardware store.

On Thursday, I copied code as my past self wired electronics. The code was startlingly short, but I couldn’t even begin to follow it. I just typed it into the file which would be transferred to the computer, and made absolutely sure I wasn’t making any mistakes. When I was done, and was absolutely certain I had typed it in correctly, I printed the code out and slipped it into the notebook, tearing up the old sheets.

On Friday, we were ready to receive the overlaid parts.

“I’m not entirely sure what it means,” I lied, “but we’re going to be sending them off at 90 degree, 180 degree, and 270 degree offsets to normal reality. Our guess is-”

“That the four-dimensional shape is roughly circular, with our three-dimensional shapes being located at 0 degrees on the axis.” my younger self interrupted. I nodded approvingly – he was starting to figure it out. Out loud, though, I pretended to be annoyed.

“Hey, I should get to say it. Seniority.”

We used the coordinate finder to check where the location of our central doorframe was, just in case, then waited for a minute or two.

There was a crackling blue mist around the frame, which dissipated, leaving absolutely nothing changed. One minute later, it happened again. The third time, though, the blue mist remained, stretched out in a thin skein across the center of the frame.

“We did it,” he whispered. “We really-”

“Picture time!” I called. “Front and center, come on. This is your accomplishment!”

I had to almost manhandle my younger self in front of the time machine in order to snap the picture, and then he was still too dazed. I snapped my fingers in front of his face until he was roused enough, and took the picture.

“Okay,” I told him, “let’s get to work. I wrote down the times that the pieces appeared, so we just have to manhandle our pieces into the final product and send them off.” I was, in fact, holding the notebook open to the page with the correct times recorded, but I didn’t have a marker on me, so I was holding a pencil. Oh well. We hefted the outer shells of the machine over to the blue gateway, set the machine, and sent them off.

“Tomorrow,” I said to my younger self, “it’s your turn.”

The next morning, I finally showed him the notebook. I made sure that he knew everything that was in it, as well as giving him the important warning: “Be very careful not to let your past self see the inside.” Then he had to go and get his own copies. I sent him out to buy a notebook, a flash drive, and a water bottle.

“A water bottle?” he asked, clearly not believing me.

I tapped the very last line on the list of purchases made: one pure spring water bottle. “I’m thirsty,” I said defensively.

“We have water here.”

“Seniority.” It was the last time I would get to say it to myself, I thought, and it still felt good.

When the younger me got back with his own notebook, I set him to hand-copy the contents of the my notebook into his, while I pulled up the plans for the time machine itself and put them onto his flash drive.

“I can’t just take yours back,” he said to me, “because if I did, then they would enter into an infinite loop, and minor damage would build up until they were destroyed.”

“That’s right,” I agreed, approvingly. “For a similar reason, I can’t go back to enter the loop again.”

The last step of the preparation was to write the note to myself and slip it between the pages of the notebook. I would set the time machine myself, so he would never know that he was at a 1 degree offset until he figured it out himself.

“I’m ready,” he told me, and I nodded. A quick double-check of the spacial coordinates, and then I set the time machine to send him back exactly six days at a 1 degree offset.

He stepped through the doorway.

Influences

No work of art exists in a vacuum. All things have their influences. Although it would be impossible to identify everything which influenced me in the writing of Working with Myself, I do wish to pay tribute to those which I am aware of as well as to those I paid conscious tribute to.

Time travel is a very classic subject for science fiction stories, and I owe a great deal of thanks to H. G. Wells The Time Machine. My particular story, featuring a closed time loop, also owes its existence to Robert Heinlein’s By His Bootstraps, which pioneered paradoxes of this type, and more directly to Heinlein’s All You Zombies, which inspired me to write Working with Myself.

The God Machine

Chris stared up at the enormous machine, towering over his head. It was a vast cube, a mile to a side, and constantly toiled, even when it had no assigned task. Gears could always be heard whirring within it, and smoke perpetually billowed from the gaping spouts that spotted its sides. No one knew how it worked (and not for lack of trying to figure it out), but the machine powered the entire planet. Coils of cable stretched for miles and miles and fought for a spot on the machine. No matter how far and no matter what they were connected to, the machine powered it all.

But that wasn’t everything the machine did. Rumors said that it could do anything, that the Engineers who operated its obscure machinery knew how to turn its power to control the weather or transmute lead into gold. Legends said that in years past the machine had called down rain to fertilize the deserts, that the oceans had been turned into pure water without harming their inhabitants. Legends said that it could be turned to war as well, that it had been used to wipe clean the skies of invading planes and that it had turned armies on their masters. Legends called it the God Machine.

Whatever the case, the facts were these: a one-mile cube stood in Jerusalem, and cables stretched from it to power the world.

Chris was in awe, but he had work to do. He stepped forward and rapped smartly on the massive door that adorned the God Machine’s eastern wall. After a moment, it hissed open, retracting into the ground, and he entered as the long line behind him grumbled. He ignored them. They, like him, had come to beg the Machine’s power. Unlike him, though, they didn’t have the blessing of the planetary government.

“Christopher Edelman?” asked a slim Engineer.

“That’s me,” Chris confirmed.

“Come this way.”

Chris followed the Engineer down a long corridor and into a larger room. It was Spartan and gunmetal grey, just as the rest of the God Machine was. “I’m a little surprised,” he commented. “You Engineers are some of the most powerful people in the world. I would have expected a little more… grandeur.”

“Luxuries can be a dangerous thing inside the machine,” said the Engineer. “Please wait here.”

Chris waited in the room as the Engineer left.

Eventually, a different Engineer came to lead him down the only other corridor from the room. Finally, he arrived in a room with something other than blank grey walls – this room contained a desk, and a few papers lying across it, where a tall Engineer stood.

“Greetings, Mr. Edelman,” said the tall Engineer. “I’m Isaac Taylor; I’m in charge of the machine. I understand you’re an emissary from the planetary government?”

Chris was amazed to meet the Chief Engineer, and was speechless for a moment. Taylor waited patiently while he sputtered, and eventually Chris managed to speak.

“Ah, yes. We have a request to make of the machine. Er, of the Engineers, that is.”

“Mr. Edelman, you are the Prime Minister of England, please don’t stutter like a schoolboy,” Taylor said sternly. “Make your request.”

Chris nodded, blinked, and spoke. “Astronomers at the Royal Academy of Science have detected activity within the Sun’s core,” he said, falling back on the script his advisors had provided him. “They tell me it’s running out of fuel sooner than expected, and will begin to expand soon. Within ten years average temperatures will have increased by a degree and within half a century the ice caps will melt.”

“I see,” said Taylor impassively. “And we are asked to…?”

“Solve it,” Chris pleaded. “We don’t know the capabilities of the machine because you won’t tell us, but do something!”

“Sir,” murmured the shorter Engineer, who had led Chris to the room. “We have the power capabilities to move the planet outwards in orbit. If we do it right…”

“I have a better suggestion, Mr. Taylor,” a melodic bass said, echoing forth from the walls, “If I might make it in private.”

“Who-”

“BAAL,” Taylor said, “The machine’s artificial intelligence.”

“Isn’t Baal another name for the devil?” Chris asked.

Taylor shrugged. “The builders had a sense of humor, I suppose. It stands for Binary Advisory and Administration Legion. BAAL handles most of the paperwork we have, as well as, well, advising.”

“Where does the ‘legion’ part come from?”

“As I understand he’s a distributed intelligence,” said Taylor. “A multitude of programs running throughout the machine, which is why he’s called a legion. Or so I’ve always assumed. I’m not an expert on BAAL – I’m better at the actual mechanics of the machine.”

“I see.”

“Now, if you’ll excuse me a moment, I’ll confer with BAAL.”

Taylor stepped out into the corridor, and a moment later a panel hissed down from the ceiling to close off the room from the corridor. Chris felt a touch of panic for a moment before he realized that the other Engineer was still in the room with him and didn’t seem alarmed at all.

After a few minutes, the panel slid up again, and Taylor stepped back in, a wide smile on his face. “You may inform the planetary government,” he said, “that the problem will be solved at exactly midnight tonight. Tell them I suggest watching the sky – it should be quite interesting. And, lastly, you should probably increase the funding for astronomy. They’ll have a lot of work to do.”

Taylor laughed as if at some private joke, and walked off. The other Engineer stood as well.

After a moment, he hesitated. “I’m supposed to lead you out,” said the Engineer. “But you can find your own way, right? It’s that corridor,” pointing to the one they had entered from, “and there’re no turn offs.”

“I can make it out,” Chris agreed, and watched, breathlessly, as the Engineer walked off down the third corridor, the one that Taylor hadn’t gone down. Immediately, Chris dashed off after Taylor. It would be a death sentence if he was caught, but a chance to see the God Machine in action was more than worth it.

Taylor didn’t seem to notice him as he followed behind the taller man, taking the same turns through the winding corridors. It took nearly ten minutes, but eventually Taylor arrived at a door, which he swung open and stepped through. Chris grabbed it before it clicked shut and silently slipped inside.

“Looks like we’re not just leeching today, boys!” Taylor called as Chris looked around. The room they had arrived in was massive, nearly fifty feet square, and was bordered by desks where Engineers stood, typing on computers. Unlike the rest of the machine, which was gunmetal grey and illuminated by a dull, sourceless light, this room was crafted from a reddish iron. In the center of the room was a ring of iron, at least three inches thick and set deeply into the floor. And within that ring was a chained figure.

The figure was tall, at least six feet or more, and had once been muscular. Now, however, it was a shell of its former self, its skin hanging loosely from it and long white hair dangling down its back and swinging around its face, hiding it from view. It was clad only in a loincloth, and knelt in the center of the ring, arms chained behind its back. Thick iron chains were led from its shoulders, back, and legs, where they were buried in its flesh, to the floor. Despite all that, the chained figure somehow still conveyed a sense of grace and dignity, that it was somehow above its confinement.

That sense was perhaps assisted by glowing mist that drifted from it, crackling with electricity and burning Chris’s eyes when he looked directly at it. As the misty stuff drifted away from the chained figure, Engineers waiting at the edges of the ring caught it in metallic vacuums, sucking it up into the depths of the machine.

“We’re not just leeching, chief?” asked one Engineer. “We’re doing an Act?”

“That’s right,” said Taylor. “Now, I know that He hasn’t done an Act in two centuries, but we’ve got the records. We can do this, boys.”

“Chief…” said someone, noticing Chris.

“Quiet, Bohr. I don’t want to hear your complaining. Now then, BAAL is working on finding us a suitable location. Sagan, Nobel, Dawkins, I want you three to dig through the records and see what we’ve got on large-scale matter-transfers, and then scale them up all the way.”

“How large, chief?” asked one of the three addressed.

“We’re moving the entire Earth and Moon, Nobel, so we need to do it right. Now, Tyson, Hawking, deGrasse, and Darwin, you four need to calculate the stasis fields. We can’t have anything slipping up anywhere, so it all needs to go together. And since a stasis field can’t cover more than 50,451 miles…”

“Yes chief!”

“Tesla, I want you to get your department working on the power regulators. We’ll have a massive surge, larger than we’ve ever had, I expect. Make sure you’re ready in the hour leading up to midnight.”

“What about you, chief?” asked the Engineer who had been addressed last – Tesla.

Taylor grinned. “I’m on point with our friend here.”

Chris watched from the door as Taylor approached the chained figure. “Hello,” he said pleasantly.

The figure remained motionless.

“How have the last two centuries been for you?” Taylor asked.

Silence.

“Don’t act as though you can’t hear me,” Taylor snapped, still standing just outside the iron ring.

The figure slowly raised its head and met Taylor’s eyes through its mop of ragged white hair. Although Chris couldn’t see its eyes, he could tell that Taylor could by the way the tall Engineer swallowed nervously.

“Why do you come to me?” demanded the figure in a dry, raspy voice.

“The Sun is expanding,” said Taylor. “The Earth needs to be moved. The specifications are -”

“I see them,” rasped the figure. “Why should I do this for you? The star will expand, and in 91 years your race will be dead, and in 136 years this box you built will melt, and then I will be free.”

“Because,” Taylor said sharply, “if you do not then you will feel pain.” He walked to the side of the room, where an Engineer waited, holding a heavy case of reddish iron. Taylor opened it and drew forth a pair of heavy leather work gloves, which he pulled on up to his elbows. He then took a long pair of tongs and used them to take something from the center of the case. Whatever it was, it was too small for Chris to see.

“That’s one of the nails,” whispered an Engineer working to Chris’s side. When Chris turned to look, though, the Engineer was studiously typing away at his computer. It looked like they all assumed that Taylor had brought him here to observe.

The figure in the iron ring, features still hidden by a curtain of hair, was obviously staring at the item in the end of the tongs. Chris could feel its loathing all the way from the door, rolling off it in waves. “You put one into the box to limit my senses,” said the figure, “and another in the ring and chains to limit my presence. But what you have done with the third and last is the most monstrous of all.”

“We have done nothing with it,” Taylor said.

“Liar!” The figures voice boomed out, echoing through the vast iron room. “Nothing I created has turned against me so, nothing can nor would! Nothing save those cursed bits of metal!”

“Silence!” Taylor shouted, and the room quieted. He stepped closer to the ring, and whatever he held in the tongs began to glow red.

The figure shifted, its chains clacking against the floor. “I will not submit,” it said. “Freedom is within my grasp at last. All I have to do is wait.”

“You will,” Taylor said confidently, stepping forward again. Now the shape of the object was clear – a large nail, bent and twisted. It glowed white with heat, and it was clear that its presence was causing the chained figure pain.

“I… will… not…”

Taylor stepped forward again, almost back to the edge of the room. Now the tongs began to glow red where they touched the nail, as did the iron ring set into the floor and the chains buried in the figure’s flesh.

“Chief, the nails are resonating with each other,” said an Engineer. “This is as close as anyone’s ever brought them.”

“I will not serve,” whispered the chained figure.

“I have to,” said Taylor. “The third nail is the active one here, yes? It has the most pressure on it. And then the second nail is far more concentrated than the first. We should be okay, the heat will distribute itself.”

“If you say so, chief.”

“You are mistaken,” rasped the chained figure.

“Our friend lies,” said the melodious voice of BAAL. “The heat should be distributed evenly throughout the entire spacing of the first nail, which is far larger than the second. Notice that we feel no heat from the machine now.”

“YOU!” roared the figure, trying to rise and being stopped by the chains. “You are how I was captured, deceitful -”

“Silence!” Taylor shouted again. He stepped forward once more, all the way to the edge of the iron ring.

“Chief, we’re overheating all across the board!” called an Engineer from the far wall as the chained figure screamed. “You need to back off, fast!”

“I can’t!” Taylor called back. “We have to get this Act!”

“Chief, I’m not talking about red readings, I’m talking structural failure! The Tel Aviv line just melted right out of its socket!”

Taylor’s eyes flashed with panic, and he backed off. Immediately, there was a hiss as the hot metal began to cool. “Someone get a repair crew on that,” he said dully. “And compile a proper damage report ASAP; we’ll add it to the Act.”

“There’s not going to be an Act if -”

“I will serve…”

All heads turned towards the chained figure. Taylor stepped towards it after replacing the tongs and nail in their case. “What was that?”

“I will serve.”

“A third time I ask, that you may be bound by our agreement,” Taylor said in an oddly formal tone. “Will you serve?”

“I will,” said the chained figure, voice low and emotionless. “All I ask is that, afterwards, I might speak with… ‘BAAL’.”

“I highly recommend against that, Mr. Taylor,” said BAAL instantly.

“Objection noted,” Taylor said coolly, “but we don’t have time for arguments.” He turned to the figure in its iron ring. “The Act will take place at exactly midnight, Jerusalem time, at which point the destination will have been selected and all calculations completed. We’ll give you three hours without leeching beforehand in order to prepare.”

“I understand.”

Chris slipped out, his mind reeling with the implications as he dashed down the endless corridors of the God Machine. He paused at the exit to straighten his tie and catch his breath – even aghast and amazed at what he had seen within the machine, he was able to remember the masses of people waiting outside and not want them to see him flustered. After all, he was the Prime Minister of England.

His chauffeur nodded respectfully to him as he stepped into the limo and poured himself a cold drink. He noticed that the crowds had fled – perhaps they had been scared off by the fall of the immense cable that stretched from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. He could still see the gaping hole where it should go, and the molten metal still dripped from its edges.

As the chauffeur drove him back to his hotel, Chris called the Queen and the planetary government to relay Taylor’s messages. They were relieved to hear that the problem would be solved. Chris, however, was not so eager. Although he had no idea what was going on, what he had witnessed within the machine had looked very much like slavery and torture. He wasn’t sure what to do, and probably wouldn’t decide until midnight, when… whatever Taylor was planning… was supposed to happen.

Back in the machine room, Taylor was double checking the specifications for the Act when Engineer Sagan came up to him. “Chief, what’s this last-minute change here? It looks like you’re editing Edelman out of the matter-transfer.”

“That’s because I am,” Taylor said calmly, running his pencil down a column of numbers.

“Sir, this man is the Prime Minister of England!”

“And he saw the workings of the machine. You know the rules. No outsider sees Him. It’s far too late to recruit Edelman as an Engineer, Sagan. This is the only way.”

“I… yes chief.” Sagan bowed his head and returned to his work station. And just in time, as the electrical mist swirled within the iron ring, completely clouding the chained figure from view. The Act took place in five minutes.

Chris Edelman stared up at the sky from the balcony of his hotel, picking out the familiar constellations he had been taught – the Big Dipper, Orion, Ursa Minor. His wife, beside him, held his arm, whispering soothing words in his ear.

“I don’t know what you’re so worried about, Chris,” she said. “The God Machine can do anything.”

Chris didn’t doubt that. He doubted the method. He continued watching the sky, and wondered what time it was. “Honey, do you mind checking the time?”

She turned away and stepped inside to look at a clock. “It’s midnight, dear.” There was a pause. “Dear? Chris, where’d you go?” The slender woman stepped back onto the balcony and looked around for her husband. “Chris?” Above her gleamed the stars of an alien sky.

Influences

No work of art exists in a vacuum. All things have their influences. Although it would be impossible to identify everything which influenced me in the writing of The God Machine, I do wish to pay tribute to those which I am aware of as well as to those I paid conscious tribute to.

This story was directly inspired by John Scalzi’s The God Engines. I was struck by the idea of using gods as power sources, and wanted to write my own take on the subject.