Author: David Barber

Another time machine.

It arrives with a clash like a drawer full of cutlery upended onto tiles.

Mostly they were entirely silent, and the first Martinez knew was when a time traveller stood at the door, latest in a carnival of visitors, eager to poke and pry, goggling at the crudity of the past and always wanting a memento, posed beside him, or in front of his own primitive apparatus.

“Do you mind?” they would ask, thrusting into his hands an incomprehensible recording device. “Just enable the interface.”

It was natural selection. Travellers from futures not obsessed with history stayed away. His visitors were academics, or gawpers convinced Martinez would be amazed by the novelty of their arrival.

Sometimes there was no machine, simply a glowing hoop in the air, or the sudden bang of displaced atoms as a traveller popped into existence. He hated these the most, startled awake or spilling his tea. There was no getting used to it.

“Leave at once,” he warned them, though it was already too late.

He recalled a pair of travellers, each as elegant and beautiful as the other, who sensed what had happened. Alerted by their device, something like a miniature glass pavilion, they repeatedly and uselessly triggered a return.

“Perhaps the physics of this alternate does not allow time travel,” the woman cried.

“In other time lines you are successful,” the man explained to Martinez, as if consoling him.

He turned to his companion and gazed into her face. “At least we are shipwrecked together.”

Over the years Martinez had observed the various manners of travellers, and even when as enigmatically remote as this couple, it seemed prudent not to mention their fate.

Less perceptive travellers would peer at his dusty workshop, at the exposed innards of his time engine spread out like a dissection on the floor. They often seemed disappointed.

“Such humble beginnings,” they would say. “To think it all began like this.”

In the early days, Martinez tried questioning the bizarrely costumed and inhumanly tall travellers from far ages, thinking they could explain, but they merely shook their heads. Not speaking of the future was one of the Rules. Whether it was the physical constants of his own timeline differing in some way to preclude time travel, he would never know.

This latest traveller slouches astride a sleek chromed machine, like the time-cycle of Captain Future.

“Band new,” he says. “Just taking it for a spin. Start of time travel is as far back as it can go. Seemed a neat idea.”

He has words tattooed around his shaved head.

“In the morning,” reads the part Martinez can see.

“Jeez,” the youth complains, glancing through the door of the workshop. “This is depressing. Like my step-dad’s garage.”

“The smell of napalm,” the rest of the tattoo says.

“You shouldn’t have come here.”

“Did I turn up before you finished it? Before your first jump?” He shrugs. “All the crap about changing the past. It’s always a different timeline.”

He flashes a knowing grin. “Paradox alert. Still, at least you know it works.”

“I gave up tinkering years ago,” Martinez murmurs.

For reasons he never understood, there is always a delay before the physics of his reality catches up with time travellers. Perhaps it depends on how many centuries they have crossed. But their existence here is impossible, and so it always proves.

Already, the grin is vanishing from the face of the youth, followed by the face, the slouching figure and finally, the time cycle itself.