Author: Matthew Scott

The article that started it all appeared in Progress in General and Special Relativity. Andrey Ivanov’s Development of the artificial cosmic string as a method of time travel was as welcome to Theodore as a sudden geomagnetic reversal was to a migrating tern. Ivanov, his nemesis, had beaten him to a discovery yet again.

There was only one thing to do. Diving into his pantry, he prepared a celebratory banquet fit for a king. Piles of crackers and sandwiches smeared in soft cheese and sashimi rose into the rafters and out of sight, and on a table next to his easy chair stood a roast turkey the size of a boulder, stuffed with rosemary and doused in a rich port gravy infused with sage and lemon. A second table groaned under the weight of an assortment of canapés, and at the centre of it all towered a cylindrical black forest gateaux with a radius of several feet. Cherries were arranged on its apex like a stone circle, while waves of fresh cream washed over its edges and down to the floor. Satisfied, Theodore settled in his easy chair and waited.

At 9 o’clock that evening, exactly on cue, the doorbell rang. Dismayed, Theodore went to the door, finding not Ivanov but a small waif from the local village. He did not have time to open his mouth before one waif became several, which became a hundred and then several thousands, pouring through his front door like water from a jug. The waifs gorged on the crackers, canapés, and cake, and as they gorged yet more piled into his home from the back door, carrying napkins and empty boxes, which they began to fill with slabs of black forest gateaux and turkey drumsticks the size of grandfather clocks.

Yet more came down his two flights of stairs, leapt into the air, and tucked their legs into his chandeliers, sweeping up sandwiches in their arms as they swung violently above his living room floor. Others fought brutally over the most luscious cuts of turkey, while some gulped gravy out of his finest crystal goblets like a poisoned man drinks an antidote. Soon the turkey was no more, and the remnants of his black forest gateaux dripped mercilessly onto Theodore’s easy chair. As soon as they had arrived, the waifs had gone, having done to Theodore’s banquet what locusts do to farmland.

Perplexed, Theodore dutifully waited until midnight before retiring to bed. At least he had been proved right. The next morning he wrote the letter that would close his experiment, and turned his thoughts to the curt rejoinder he would later send to Progress in General and Special Relativity, asking for the retraction of Ivanov’s paper. He waded through mounds of dirty cutlery to his front door, and proceeded to the post box in the middle of town. He slipped the letter into the box and began the short walk home.

The courier robot was waiting for him when he returned. It handed Theodore an envelope. Inside, dated some three weeks prior, was a handwritten letter. Dear Theodore, my much-maligned friend! It read. Please accept my apologies that I could not attend your banquet in person. However, I extended your invitation to the waifs and strays in this galaxy and the next. I hope they were sufficiently courteous and appreciative of your food! Regards, Ivanov.

Theodore folded the paper once, then a second time, and then crumpled it into a ball before throwing it to the ground, hard. His nemesis had received the letter inviting him to the banquet yesterday after all.