2 overlapping stories about meeting yourself, the same puppy, time travel, and free will.
|Only the Second Time.
A puppy, a four-week old golden doodle wearing a blue collar, wanders into a large gothic room. Wood floors. Large windows. Inexpensive oriental rugs on the floor. A cardboard box in the corner, on its side so the puppy can easily enter, with a light blue towel folded nicely inside. And there is a puppy door, which will allow the puppy to go outside into a small, enclosed grassy area.
Twice per day, a young woman, clearly a dog lover, enters the room to pet the puppy and to give it any necessary care & attention, including medicine for an eye infection.
Four years pass. The puppy has grown to be a healthy and happy adult dog, having had nearly 3,000 visits from the young woman, but having never seen another living animal larger than a small bird.
On exactly day 1,461 (one of the years has a leap year for those of you doing math), another young woman wheels in a metal and glass box not much bigger than the cardboard box (which was removed more than 1,300 days prior and replaced with a proper dog bed) into the room.
The dog, gentle and gently, is lifted into the box. The woman, (the second one, though it doesn’t matter) swaps the dog’s blue collar for an identical red one. She then presses a grey, non-descript button on a simple digital display.
And the dog disappears.
It was me from the future, it could not have been many years forward, but I knew for sure it was me.
Before I even had a chance to open my mouth, I grabbed myself by the collar of my Serenity t-shirt, which I was also wearing and looked myself hard in the eyes and said the following, “When you get to the time machine, do not come back here.” I did not look like I was joking.
“Repeat it back to me,” I demanded, twisting my collar a bit to create pressure.
“Repeat it back to me.” I said more slowly. “When I get to…”
I complied. I looked very serious, as I mentioned. “When I get to…”
“… the time machine…”
“… the time machine…”
“…I will not…”
“…I will not…”
“…I will NOT come back here.”
“…I will NOT come back here.”
“Good,” I said, clearly relieved. “Now we can talk.” I relaxed my grip on my Serenity t-shirt.
I looked at my collars … collar and was relieved that they … it was … were not stretched out. “Why not?” I asked.
I shrugged softly, “The world will end.”
“The world? Is that what you-?”
“No. I am not coming back to save the world. If you create a loop, the world will end. I shouldn't even be here.” But I was.
A puppy, a four-week old golden doodle wearing a blue collar, wanders into a large Gothic room. Wood floors. Large windows. Inexpensive oriental rugs on the floor. A cardboard box in the corner, on its side so the puppy can easily enter, with a light blue towel folded nicely inside. And there is a puppy door, which will allow the puppy to go outside into a small, enclosed grassy area.
Also in the room is the exact same dog, precisely four years older, which has time-traveled back to this very moment.
There are two problems with meeting yourself from the future. The first is you have so many questions to ask, too many to even get started. Especially after you first have to swear not to use the time machine you apparently already used, which seems unfair. The second is that your future self is the one with the reason for coming back and has an agenda.
“Wh-?” I started, but was quickly cut off.
“Whatever you are about to ask is not important,” I interrupted, sounding just like myself in both tone and arrogance. If I was unsure this was me before, which I wasn’t, I would no longer be unsure.
I continued, “What you have to do is very simple. There are two things, in fact, and they are on this note right here.” I reached into my left jeans pocket and withdrew … nothing. I reached into my right jeans pocket and withdrew … again nothing. “Crap, where did I put that note?”
This was just like me.
I looked down and pulled at the t-shirt where a breast pocket would be, but wasn’t.
“Mayb-” I started.
I gave myself a dirty look, not wanting to be helped (also very much like me) and shook my head.
I reached into my back pocket and smiled, remembering.
I knew that look.
I then bent down, pulled up my pants leg and reached into my grey sock.
I pulled up my own jeans leg, different jeans, and had on white socks. Would I start wearing grey sports socks in the future? That doesn’t seem like much growth for me. I hoped I wasn’t coming from too far in the future.
I pulled a note from my grey sock, unfolded it twice, read it to myself and then handed it across to me.
The puppy and the dog, both the same animal separated by exactly four years (which they could have no idea was the case) lived in the room as the puppy had lived before.
With one big exception: companionship.
The puppy, recently weaned from a mother it would soon forget, had an adult puppy pack member to keep it company.
The dog, which time-traveled back to its entrance to the room, could only understand that it was placed inside a box and when it was removed, there was a puppy in the room. It did not understand that the puppy was itself four years prior. Or that it had traveled back in time.
The note read:
1) Bet $100 on the 13-2-10-1 superfecta at the Belmont this year.
2) Take away Janet’s keys before she leaves the bar on New Year’s next year.
I shook my head. “That’s not what's important.”
“How do you even know what I am going to ask?” I said, frustrated.
I smiled and rolled my eyes. “You were going to ask, “What happened to Janet?”
I was right.
“Remember who I am?”
I acknowledged that. “So. What is important?”
“You are going to fall into an interesting circle of people at the University of Chicago in about six months, right after the Belmont.” I tapped the note in my hand. “This group, and you … me are going to figure out time travel.”
I was about to ask a question, but decided not to bother.
“We … you and I … come up with something really interesting about time travel and post it online, which leads us … me, this is confusing … to being abducted by a team of people who have created a time travel machine.” I paused and then, as if deciding something internally, said, “I don’t really know how much I can say without spoiling things, but I think I can tell you that it nearly drove me … us insane, but we eventually got it. And the interesting thing we figured out is that the first pass through, the first time you meet yourself, is not a loop. The loop only occurs the second time.”
“I don’t understand.”
I smiled at myself. “You will. You did. I did.”
“You have to tell me more.”
“Okay.” I thought for a second again and then seemed to figure out what to say. “You never met me before. I know that no one came back in time to tell me to bet on a horse race or to save Janet, or I would already have the million dollars and Janet would not be dead."
“Not if you take her keys.” I said this as if it were stupidly obvious. “But when you get a chance to go back in time, to meet yourself here, after already winning the money and saving Janet and knowing you will meet yourself, you create a loop.”
“Still don't understand.”
I sighed and grabbed me by the t-shirt collar again. “There are two of us, right?”
I said nothing.
“I get to talk?”
I groaned. “Neither of us has met us before. When I decided to come back, I was not reliving fate, I was coming back to see you … me for the first time. You are meeting me from the future, which is not important. What is important, is that I am meeting you from my past. This is new for me, since I did not meet me when I was you? Understand?”
I shook my head, ‘no.’
“You will.” I sighed again. “Right now, I am the future you who was never on your side of this conversation. I never met myself until now. If you come back, as I did, you will be on this side. The other side of the conversation you were already in. Again, I was never in this conversation before. This is happening for the very first time. Get it?”
I sighed again. “Last try, since I have to leave soon.” I let go of my collar finally. “You and I are different. I am the future you, but I did not meet the future me four years ago. You did. More clearly said: you are doing it now. If you come back, you will be meeting the past you, standing right here.” I stamped my foot. “No one was here…” He stomped again. “…when I was you. But if you come back, someone will be standing here. You.”
I understood. “Got that part.”
I continued. “Creates a loop. The person standing there will be just like you. Meeting the future you, standing right there. Which I never did. But you did … are doing it right now.”
I felt like this was the same thing with slightly different words, “I said I got that part.”
I grabbed myself by the collar again. “So … do not come back here. Because if you do, you will give up free choice and always have to come back. No more free choice. Since the you standing where I am – in every future instance – will have the same experience as the you standing where you are now. Only I am different. Only this me.” I thumped my own chest. “I am the only one of us who will never experience meeting me from the future at this point in time. Because I didn't. You did. And the future you will as well.” I looked at myself to see if I understood. “So only you can stop the loop.”
“So what? Who cares if there’s a loop?”
I laughed. “You still don’t understand. There are two of us. One. Two.” I tapped both of our chests hard. “If you come back, you will create another one of us.” I looked at me to see if I understood.
This time I tapped both of our chests. Softly. “One. Two. And if I come back here, to stand where you are, there will again be two of us. Two. One.” I tapped both of our chests again. As hard as I did the first time.
“No. You have free will. You can decide not to go back. Because you are different than me. The next you will lose free will-”
This time I interrupted. “And one. Two.” I tapped both of our chests again.
I shook my head, very clearly disappointed in myself. “But it’s all happening at the same time! Creating new versions with each button press. The same button press. Infinite times. Infinite versions of us. Not just two, but two million billion trillion. At the exact same time. Only not the first time. Meaning the next time. Since you have…”
And I said this at the same time as myself, “… free will”
“… free will”
I finally understood. Holy crap!
On exactly day 1,461, the time travel device operator rolled the metal and glass box into the room.
The blue collared dog, gentle and gently, is lifted into the box.
The red-collared dog looks sadly as its puppy-now-dog packmate disappears into the box. This is the first time in four years since it has been alone. It remembers having been alone and this is not something it wants ever to do again.
The puppy-now-dog was never alone. It always had a packmate. It simply wonders what’s in the box and what will happen next.
The blue collar of the dog in the box is swapped for an identical red one. The woman then presses the grey, non-descript button on the simple digital display.
And the world disappears.