The Glorious Gap
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Paradoxes don't exist.

That's the first, last, and nth thing you'll learn about time travel. It always works out, because it has to. There's no paradoxes because you know there can't be paradoxes, and so you're going to fix them. And then there won't be. Theoretically, you could just not interfere, but then there'd be a paradox. And since there's no paradoxes, you have to interfere. To stop the paradox. That can't exist.

Yes, this is in and of itself paradoxical. And yes, it will hurt your brain and reduce your notions of free will, duty, destiny, cause, effect, and everything in between to something resembling pigswill. And no, there is nothing you can do about it. Got to avoid paradoxes, remember? Yes, you can have a glass of water and a sit down. No, it doesn't get any easier.

The year is 2026, and the Temporal Anomalies Department is dead. That's what they'd told Alice, anyway, when she'd first spent all those nights poring over 1780's file, reading and re-reading and following every rabbit-hole of a crosslink until she struck bedrock. When she'd exhausted that, she'd begged and pleaded with the higher-ups to raise her clearance — she filled out forms, undertook additional work, built up favours and debts wherever she could, all to take a glance at that final, tantalising letter. In the end, it was only just enough.

Still, though, she can't grumble. Shouldn't, rather. She was sitting here now, in her shiny new office with its shiny windows, looking out onto the octagon of fake green grass that the station euphemistically called a courtyard. She slowly fingered her her shiny new nameplate, admiring its sheen. That was another thing, everything seemed so shiny here. Permanently sterile and polished to within an inch of its life. She'd eventually had to force the janitor to put down his cloth and leave her alone — there was only so much disinfectant a woman could take.

"Dr Alice Forth, Department of Temporal Anomalies, Retcon Division"

Protecting the world, from within her office. Filling in paperwork, proof-reading documentation. All day. Every day.

Her eye twitches, and she slowly slides open the bottom drawer of her desk. Nestled in the corner is a pale orange bottle of pale orange pills, taped to a prescription a mile long. Staring directly ahead, she pours out three, and (eyes fixed on a point several metres beyond the wall) swallows them.

The Foundation's lone temporal specialist slumps forwards, head in her hands, and tries to ignore the waves of anger that keep breaking on the edges of her skull.



Forth turns her head, slowly. Around her, a hundred thousand different containment chambers dance and spin like a kaleidoscope on acid. A prismatic, fractured, insanity-inducing vision. She attempts a step forward, and watches as each scene alters slightly. A step to the side, and it shifts again, spinning along an axis nobody but her can see.

"Hello, Ms. Forth?"

There it is again. A voice, just beside her. Or, no, wait, above her? Diagonal? Maybe? Thinking like this is hard, and everything seems so far out of her grasp. It must be like showing a hypercube to someone who's never heard of a square, or describing Banach–Tarski to someone who can't count higher than two. She turns her head to try to face the source of the sound, watching as the containment chambers melt and distort and fall back in place. If she moves her head in the right direction and back again, she can watch things fast-forward and reverse. There's a man dropping his coffee, and now he's got it back. Dropped, back, dropped, back, dropped, back, dr-

Wait. She shifts her weight to her left, then returns. Yes, she's not imagining it. If she looks at it like this, he's got coffee, but like this and he's holding a cup of tea. Really milky, as well. Disgusting. Maybe if she twisted this way, she could-

"Ms. Forth, hello."

She whips her head round, loses sight of Schrodinger's beverage amongst countless infinities, and watches as a bearded man steps out from behind a fold in reality.

"Finally caught up to you, thank goodness. You haven't made it easy."


He smiles. "Me."

"You did this?"

"Hah, no. I just made sure you didn't end up killing yourself and everybody in a twenty-year radius. I'm assuming, judging by the look on your face, that you're familiar with my work?"

"Yes. Yes, yes I am."

The man grins. "Good to know I make an impression even when I don't exist."

"Don't exist?"

"Didn't they tell you? I've been retconned. Occupational hazard."

"What? Why the hell would they retcon a janitor?"

It's the man's turn to look bemused. "I- I'm sorry?"

"Don't act like you don't know. You keep going into my office and cleaning up. Sometimes five, six times a day. Whole place reeks of cleaning fluid thanks to you"

He raises an eyebrow. "No, no… that's not me. Or rather, it's not me me. Not here-and-now in-the-flesh as-I-live-and-breathe me. It's a time-traveller thing. You'll get used to them eventually, especially considering you are one now." He fishes in his pocket and pulls out an ID card. "Here, you probably know me better like this. It was taken during one of my more experimental phases. Your office, you say? Wonder what I was looking for…"

Alice stares down at the tiny plastic rectangle. She'd memorised every pixel of the photograph, every hair on the picture's head. She looks up, and, yes, they're the same. More beard, contact lenses, a bit more meat on his bones maybe, definitely a questionable choice in hair colouring, but the resemblance is undeniable.

"I imagine you have quite a lot of questions."

"Y- yes, yes I do."

"Well, I'd be happy to answer them. Essentially, your reality model's been shifted upwards by one temporal dimension, converting what we one would normally experience as a timeline into more of a timeplane, with the net effect of-"

Forth interrupts him, holding up a hand.

"What the hell kind of name is Xyank?"

Paradoxes can't exist. Or rather, they shouldn't. Nature abhors them. But, once in a while, you can make something so unnatural that nature has to take a step back. Something just absurd enough to skirt around the edge of reason, cut the loop open, and dodge causality. It's hard. Logic isn't just self-correcting, it's pre-correcting. To violate the arrow of time so completely and utterly, you have to be several steps ahead of reality itself.

The trick, then, to being several steps ahead, is to be moving very fast.

To move fast enough, then, you have to have very good boots.

With good, solid soles.

And very, very strong bootstraps.

In the glorious gap between seconds, Dr. Forth starts to run.

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