William stared at his notebook, all flat and white and boring. In the biolab down the hall, they’d bred a species of super mice with cybernetic brain tissue. Upstairs, the astronomy department had made radio contact with alien life. Downstairs, the chemistry students were secretly developing hangover-free alcohol. These were exciting times for science, but in the physics lab, the lab William was stuck in, all he got to do was watch a little, yellow light flash on and off.
It flashed again.
It flashed a third time, and William scribbled down some numbers. He stared at them, wondering why he’d done that, but when the next flash came he wrote some more. He kept writing, adding variables and exponents and parenthetical expressions, soon oblivious to everything–the yellow light, the ticking clock, the soft footsteps approaching–everything except the scratchy sound of pen on paper.
Someone started massaging William’s shoulders. Reality popped back into existence, and William stopped writing.
“What time is it?” he said.
“Late,” Alice answered, kissing the top of his head. “Very, very late.”
“I’m sorry. Dr. Strickland is punishing me. I have to stay until the fermionic condenser is ready for tomorrow’s experiment.”
The fermionic condenser’s indicator light flashed impatiently. William returned to his work, adding notation to account for the speed of light, the mass of electrons, and other concepts he’d barely understood until that moment. Alice snatched the notebook away. William’s hand twitched, desperate to continue its work, ready to write on the bare tabletop if it had to.
“I thought Strickland made you do everything on the computer,” Alice said, eying William’s incomplete equations.
“This isn’t for Strickland,” William said.
“What’s it for?”
“It’s like… like mathematical poetry,” William said, stealing his notes back. “It’s like the numbers are talking to me, telling me what to write.”
Alice laughed. “Roses are red, violets are blue, pi equals 3.141592.”
William forced himself to chuckle, but the light flashed twice and William obeyed its call. Alice continued rubbing his shoulders, but it felt distant like a half forgotten dream. William had entered a new world, leaving common physical sensations behind.
The numbers spoke a language all their own, a language William couldn’t understand, yet he tried to transcribe it faithfully. He knew he was making mistakes–how could there be negative values for time?–but he pressed on. The Higgs field, anti-matter, particle-wave duality–it all made sense until–until Alice started doing that thing to his ear. The thing that always drove him crazy, and she used her tongue too. William dropped his pen. It rolled off the table, bouncing quietly on the floor, and his bizarre, single-minded obsession with mathematical poetry turned into a single-minded obsession more typical of human males.
Alice giggled in victory.
William had his ear fetish, but Alice had a few weaknesses of her own. William pulled her close, kissing a certain spot on her neck, making her gasp. Her fingers tangled in his hair, her legs wrapped around his hips.
“What are the numbers saying now?” she asked.
“Who cares?” William said, unzipping her cardigan. She shrugged it off. Her bra came next, followed by William’s belt. The light flashed, the numbers poeticized, and something made a squeaky noise, but neither William nor Alice noticed.
“Watch closely,” a bright, perky voice said. “These two humans are about to do something no one has done before.”
William blinked and saw camera lenses. Lots of camera lenses. Alice screamed and dove under the table. William leapt after her, banging his head, tipping over his chair.
“For obvious reasons,” the perky voice continued, “it’s hard to determine who invented time travel first. The Acelera built time machines billions upon billions of years ago, but they got the idea from visitors from the future, and those visitors stole the technology from someone else.”
“Where’s my bra?” Alice whispered while William fumbled with his pants.
“Dozens of scientists have filed patents with the Intergalactic Trade Commission, each a few days before the one before, creating not only a legal paradox but a paradox in the space-time continuum. To further complicate matters, time itself exists in constant flux, history changing and changing again without anyone noticing because our memories change with it.
“So who invented time travel? Well, the Tomorrow News Network’s top researchers found the answer, and that individual is here right now!”
William peeked over the table. He squinted into the glaring lights, trying to make out the shadowy figures behind the cameras. A blonde woman stood in the middle of everything. She glanced over her shoulder, and William saw her in profile: a pointy, upturned nose, long eyelashes, and a cruel grin that made him want to run and hide and never ever come out again.
“It seems our inventor is a bit shy,” the blonde said, chuckling.
The fermionic condenser made a plaintive, buzzing noise. The little, yellow light changed to red and flashed urgently.
Alice grabbed William’s hand. “What’s happening?” she said, but he barely heard her over the shrieking numbers.
An eerie glow flooded the lab, washing away tables and chairs and all of Dr. Strickland’s expensive equipment. It crashed over William like waves of cold water, and he felt like he was drowning in the light.
* * *
Like Dorothy caught in a tornado, Alice spun through a vortex of light, seeing colors unlike any she’d experienced before: golds more than gold, blues more than blue, whites brighter than white. A few hazy images flashed by, ranging from cavemen to spaceships. Alice gripped William’s hand tighter. In this chaos without warmth or gravity or common sense, he was the only solid thing to hold on to.
Then with a sickening lurch, Alice fell. She lost William’s hand and tumbled through leafy greenness, landing beside a mound of earth. She heard William crash somewhere nearby.
Alice groaned and opened her eyes. A moment ago it had been night; now Alice stared up at a day-lit sky. Alice didn’t know much about physics–she was a philosophy major–but she could confirm they had indeed traveled through time.
Something cracked. Some critter squeaked in panic and scurried off.
“What happened?” William said.
“You tell me,” Alice replied. “I thought you said work in the lab was boring.”
“We’re studying quantum entangled iota particles, subjecting them to identical stimuli to observe their reactions. According to one hypothesis, tachyons might connect the iota particle pairs.”
“Okay, you were right,” Alice said. “That does sound boring.”
Alice attempted to sit up, but her head kept spinning, going both clockwise and counterclockwise at once. She shook her head. That only made it worse.
She heard more of that cracking sound as William tried to move, the sound of something both brittle and moist breaking open.
“Tachyons travel faster than light,” William said, “which means they also travel backwards through time.”
“So a bunch of tacky-things exploded, and now we’re time travelers?”
William didn’t say anything else. Alice heard another moist crack followed by an astonished grunt.
“William?” she whispered.
“Are these… eggs?” William said.
Alice crawled on her hands and knees and looked over the top of the mound, only it wasn’t a mound. It was a nest. Alice had landed on the side, but William lay right in the middle, surrounded by shattered eggshells and thick, sticky yolk. Several dead embryos the size of half-grown chickens oozed in the dirt. A pair of Tyrannosaurus parents stood over William, dumbfounded expressions on their faces.
Alice staggered to her feet, fighting off her lingering dizziness, and backed away. William got up as well, stumbling and stepping on yet another egg. The larger dinosaur flinched.
“Umm… we’re sorry,” William said.
“We?” Alice snapped. “I didn’t break anything. Don’t try making me your accomplice!”
The larger dinosaur lumbered forward, its rough, grey skin stretching over muscle and sinew. Alice didn’t know much about dino-biology, but she guessed this was the mom dinosaur. It seemed the more furious of the two as it examined its spoiled nest.
The dinosaur snarled. Hearing that snarl, a low, rumbling noise filled with menace, Alice’s instinctive fight-or-flight response kicked in. Her brain wisely chose the “flight” option; she turned and ran, leaving William behind. He was a smart boy. He’d probably choose flight too.
The dinosaurs bellowed a war cry. The sound echoed through the forest, and distant bellowing came in answer. Alice ran faster, thinking how this was a great time to find out Tyrannosaurus rex had some form of social structure.
“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home,” Alice muttered as thunderous footsteps chased after her.
William grabbed her arm and pulled her in a different direction.
“Go toward the light!” he yelled.
Alice saw it: the same eerie glow that had burst from the fermio-whatchamacallit.
“Wait! Come back!” someone shouted.
Alice glanced back to see that hot blonde from the lab waving her arms. She also saw the two dinosaurs, their open jaws getting ever closer.
“I just want to ask a few questions!” the blonde yelled, hurrying off in a different direction.
The ground trembled, the tree branches overhead quivered, and a colossal shadow engulfed William and Alice as they ran. Taxing the last ounce of strength from her muscles, Alice rushed toward the light, and the light rushed toward her.
* * *
“Greetings,” a computerized voice said. “I am programmed to serve as an interpreter, facilitating communications between species Homo sapiens and species Hykonian texolti.”