He is dead. Her love, her life – he is still and limp and cold. His neck is flopped wrongly in her lap. She can feel his blood draining, weeping through her fingers. The knife left behind is only centimetres away.
He is dead.
Before despair can claim her she forces herself to think. A manual override. A skill she has honed throughout a lifetime of study, of tests, of successive failures. There is always a solution. She is in control of her destiny.
Her eyes scan the lab. She knows there is something amidst the drying maroon streaks of blood and broken machinery that will help her. Everything she sees begins to register, forming myriad mental projections of possible methods by which that object can help her. But the human virus clouds her mind; vengeance shapes her thoughts, bending the objects into weapons, into tools that will track the murderer. She imagines hunting the killer down and torturing them in every cruel way she can imagine –
No. Another override. She is better than the base temptations of her human nature. Think, she tells herself.
A burst of light. Possibility. Again, not allowing her emotion to sway her, she weighs up the alternatives. None are viable. It is the only outcome – if it works – that will make her happy. Because it is the only outcome in which he is alive.
She lays him gently on the floor. Kisses his matted hair and says through tears, ‘I love you. I would follow you to Hell and back.’
They were his words, not hers. He was the one who believed. She did not believe. She proved. And she would prove her commitment matched his, a thousand times over if that’s what it took.
She wipes the sticky blood on her thighs and gets to her feet. She is in control now.
It doesn’t take her long to find – a small machine buried in the grave of other forgotten projects. She hauls it out, already beginning to put the various components together in her head.
She’s never used the device before, but she knows it works. It had been a victory – a victory over the universe itself. Time travel had always been an elusive concept to reconcile. It always posed a problem, never a solution. That frustrated her. On one hand it meant she could, theoretically, influence the past. Not change it – Grandfather paradox and all that – but be the reason why the past is the way it is. She couldn’t deny the power that implied made her giddy. It also presented a quandary, however; if the past was and always had been written, then what was the present but the past of the future? If the past was pre-determined, then everything was pre-determined. Everything she ever did was outside her control because the universe had dictated it already.
She had hated that idea. He had loved it.
The machine, though, had given her something she had never experienced – an alternative she hadn’t already considered. Better yet, it gave her an alternative that proved she was right – on both counts. The first, that the past was written. The second, that her destiny was her own.
Through the device she had seen time itself split. She had seen a whole universe tear in two – a single moment where reality branched into two separate forks. One where the device didn’t work at all; the other, her own, where it did. And then she observed the universe splitting again, continually breaking at every moment like lightning across the night sky, each fork representing a different action upon which everything that ever came after would be determined. It proved that the past was set, but the future was hers to mould.
The device hums to life. That original sensation of excitement, of possibility, floods her. She will find him – another him. She will hop to a thousand different timelines if she has to. They will be together again.
She pauses, glances at his corpse. He had begged her not to use the device. Knelt at her feet, tears streaming in desperation. Why not? She had asked. He didn’t have an answer. Not a logical one, anyway. Just a feeling, he had said. He believed it was the right thing to do.
His words had rung in her head though – “to Hell and back” – and she had wondered if there was more to them. If he genuinely believed she was going there and he would have to follow her like he promised.
That wasn’t the reason she had turned it off last time. In fact, she didn’t quite know why she had turned it off. All she knew was that using the device would hurt him. She couldn’t bring herself to do that.
But breaking his heart is no longer a consideration. She cannot see any reason to not use the device now. If anything, she has more justification than ever. By using it she will do what she does best. She will prove.
She picks up the knife and flicks the switch. Light envelopes her as the device launches her through space. She feels herself stretching thin, thin enough to fly through a keyhole that opens to another universe – no, infinite universes.
Then she is standing in the lab. It is almost exactly the same; in this lab, there are no blood streaks and no broken machinery. Everything is perfectly in order, just the way she likes it.
There he is. Alive, standing only a few feet from her. His eyes are as bright and curious as ever. But they lose their light as they fall to her lap, to the blood that stains her trousers, to the knife, still dripping in her hand.
‘Who… are you?’ he stammers. Fear begins to take her. She stumbles towards him, desperate to hold him and for him to hold her back. But his hands don’t open to embrace her; they close to form fists, they close around her throat. She struggles with him, pleading – why doesn’t he understand –
He freezes. Her own fist is pressed up against his belly, her fingers wrapped tightly around the knife handle. She yanks it out – an instinctive reaction. Warm blood gushes over her, he looks at her in confused disbelief, his mouth trying to form words that won’t come.
Together they sink to the floor. The knife falls from her hand. This is not an outcome she had considered, she thinks frantically. She tries to tell him – this was not supposed to be a possibility! – but he is already gone.
He is dead. Her love, her life.
For the second time she sits with his corpse. Only now he is dead by her own hand. She wants to scream. She wants to pick up the knife and plunge it into her own gut.
No. Think, she tells herself. There must be a solution.
The device still hums in her other hand. She looks down at it and sees endless possibility. A million more timelines to travel to. A million more versions of him to be with.
She is about to launch to another timeline when she has another thought. A million more versions of him means a million more versions of her too. Her eyes are drawn to the stairs at the end of the lab. Footsteps are coming down them. She knows who they belong to. And she knows what sight is awaiting them. She stood in their place only minutes ago.
Realisation explodes in her. In spite of herself, she accepts the universal truth.
It is written.
She fulfilled the prophecy herself. The very thought disgusts her but it must be true – she has proven it. There are endless timelines, endless universes. And she is but one link in a never-ending cycle of despair, ambition, and death. She sees herself fleeing into the next timeline, leaving his corpse in a pool of his own blood on the lab floor, where another version of herself will find him before taking out her version of the device, leaping to another timeline, killing another version of him in the ensuing struggle, and everything she does from that point on will be pre-determined, a vicious cycle repeating endlessly…
She stops herself. The footsteps are still coming. She forces herself to think. There is a solution. The cycle does not need to continue. It’s the cycle that killed him. If she breaks it, she saves him. Even if it is only one version of him from infinite possible timelines.
She will prove her love for him. She will prove her love for him is greater than that of any of her other selves. She will prove it is not written.
She stands. Walks towards the staircase to meet her other self at the bottom and stick the knife straight in her heart. The cycle will end with her.
The knife in her own back stops her, the hand over her mouth stifles her scream. As she is yanked out of sight by powerful hands, she tries to think, tries to find some solution. There is none. All she can do is watch as her other self collapses at the sight of his corpse, cradles him, and eventually says, ‘I love you. I would follow you to Hell and back.’
A voice behind her whispers back, ‘I know you would, dear.’