Loophole

I had just come in from the garage carrying the grocery bag when I saw him.

“Sorry Doctor.” he said, pointing what looked like a gun made out of glass at me. “I can’t let this happen.” He squeezed the grip.

Nothing happened.

I sighed and stepped around him into the kitchen, putting the bag on the counter. He looked at the gun then pointed and squeezed it at me again. More nothing happened. He yelled in frustration and threw the gun at me. He missed and the gun bounced off the side of the refrigerator.

“Watch it!” I said, getting annoyed. “You could break something.”

He yelled again and charged at me but tripped over the leg of a chair. He hit the ground hard and lay there unmoving. I sighed again and started putting the groceries away.

Some minutes later I had finished and was looking in the back of the refrigerator to see if I had any beer left when I heard him groan. I looked over to see him push himself up into a sitting position. He looked around and saw me then staggered to his feet.

“How?” he asked finally. “What did you do?”

“Nothing.” I said, popping the tab on the beer. “No need to. I figured that out a while back.”

He paused. “What do you mean?”

I leaned back against the counter. “Who do you think I am?” I asked him.

That seemed to startle him. “You’re Henry Armstrong, right? The physicist?”

I shook my head. “People keep telling me that, but physics isn’t my thing.” I took a drink. “Neither is time travel.” I added.

He took a couple of steps towards me. “So you are him!”

I shrugged. “So you people keep telling me. But I’m not a physicist. I’m the assistant manager at the Food World.”

He paused again. “You people? What are you talking about?”

I took another drink. “You think you’re the first person to have this idea? A lot of people seem to think I invented time travel. Or will invent it. Or something. And apparently I will at some point because it apparently makes a lot of people angry enough to use time travel to come back to try to kill me before I invent it. A couple of you show up every week these days.”

His eyes narrowed, looking first at me then at the gun sitting on the counter. “Oh, so someone brought you a nullifier? That’s what it is.”

He moved to start towards me but I held up a hand. “Nothing that complicated. It’s actually quite simple when you hear the explanation. And believe me, I’ve heard it dozens of times. Now then, why are you trying to kill me?”

He was getting angry again. “You invented time travel! Do you…”

I cut him off. “OK, let’s say I will. Now, how did you get here to try to kill me?”

“I time travelled back from…”

I cut him off again. I had had this conversation many times. “OK, now put it together. I invent time travel. You use time travel to kill me before I invent it. So time travel doesn’t exist. So you can’t come back to kill me. So I invent time travel. You can’t kill me because the means you use to kill me require that you not kill me. Get it?”

He shook his head. “Some people have made changes.”

I shrugged. “Not many, and never for anything important. Or so I’ve been told. People like you have been showing up my entire life. All of you keep trying to kill me and none of you succeed. Nothing ever works. It’s kinda annoying, really.”

He looked from me to the gun again. “So… you can’t be killed?”

“Apparently.” I said.

He thought a bit. “Wait…” he said finally. “You said you were just a grocery store manager?”

“Assistant manager.” I corrected him. “Why not? Apparently I’m going to invent time travel some day whether I want to or not, so I haven’t been particularly motivated.”

“But you’ve been studying? Working on it?”

“Nope. Again, why bother? Apparently I can’t not invent it. It will happen at the proper time.”

He shook his head. “So… you aren’t in control of your own life then?”

I finished the beer and nodded. “Yeah. That’s the downside. Just like you can’t kill me, I apparently can’t do anything differently either. So why try? I…”

We were interrupted by a popping sound and a brief flash. Another person appeared in the room, wearing a jumpsuit and holding a ball-like object in his hand.

Another sigh. “Hi.” I said. “Welcome to…” There was a bright flare from the ball.

Henry Armstrong’s head exploded outwards, splattering the kitchen with gore. The beer can fell to the floor as the body wobbled, then fell itself. Taylor Harris, the first time traveller, looked at it in surprise then turned to the newcomer.

“You know, he had just convinced me that he couldn’t be killed.” he said. “Guess I was wrong.”

“He couldn’t.” said the newcomer, checking something on the ball. “Not by you anyway.”

Taylor looked at him. “What do you mean?”

The newcomer shrugged. “The universe will prevent a paradox at all cost. We figured that out as soon as time travel was proven to exist. But there are exceptions.”

Taylor nodded. “Yeah, some people have changed things. But nothing important.”

The newcomer smiled. “Actually, it’s easy to change things. As long as the result is the same you can change the details all you like. That’s the loophole. In order for there to be a paradox someone has to realize there is one.”

“OK, yeah, but…” Taylor pointed at Armstrong’s body. “How did you kill the creator of time travel then? Wait… If you killed the creator of time travel, how are we still here?”

“Him?” The newcomer gestured at Armstrong. “That guy never did anything. He thought he was destined for something and just coasted along, expecting it to happen without any effort. He doesn’t invent time travel.”

“Then who does?”

“I do.”

Taylor hesitated for a moment then his eyes widened in realization and he grabbed for the gun still on the counter. The ball flared.

The newcomer knelt over Taylor’s body and placed the gun in its hand. He then searched briefly before finding the recall unit on his arm. He pushed the button and stepped back, watching until the body vanished a few seconds later with a pop and a flash of light. He then removed his own recall unit from his own wrist and wrapped it around the arm of Armstrong’s body. Another pop and flash and the newcomer was alone in the kitchen.

He sighed and looked around. He would have to clean up the mess, but that could wait. He opened the refrigerator and found another beer then found and dialed the phone. He waited.

“Hello, University? Yes, this is Henry Armstrong. I’ve decided I need to go back and get my degree and am wanting to know your enrollment procedures.” He paused, listening.

“Well, I’ve always been interested in physics…”

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