The Second Time Around

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"What do you mean stop time?" Dr. Mathis asked.

Gregory started to answer, but he looked up at the cameras and hesitated. "I can't say anything else right now." Gregory pointed to the cameras. "I shouldn't have said what I did, but it doesn't matter. They can't do this experiment without me, so it's not like they can arrest me at the moment. Besides, the very fact that you're here and you know that I'm here shows that you already know more than you should."

Dr. Mathis frowned. "What do you mean more than I should? What have you mixed yourself up in, Mr. Paite?"

"I went and got a doctorate," Gregory said, "But when Uncle Sam pays for something, he expects a return on that investment."

"So this is a government facility?" Dr. Mathis asked.

Gregory nodded. "I told security that I may have someone coming to deliver a message. I didn't really believe it myself, I guess, but you're here, aren't you?" Dr. Mathis started to respond, but Gregory held up his hand and shook his head firmly. "I really can't say more, Professor. I'll have to talk to my superiors after the experiment run and convince them to grant you clearance. Once they do, I'll fill you in on everything tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Dr. Mathis asked, indignant, "Where am I supposed to stay tonight?"

"There's a motel down the road in Mountain Grove and it's never full. You shouldn't have any trouble getting a room. I've got to get back to the experiment." Gregory pointed at the race ticket on the floor as he began to back away. "Take that with you, Professor. Can't risk contaminating the timeline, right? I'll see you tomorrow, and we'll talk more."

Gregory turned and was out the door before Dr. Mathis could respond. The door closed with an echoing finality, and the three canvassing cameras began scanning the room once again as the two motion tracking cameras remained locked onto him. Dr. Mathis bent and picked up the racing ticket and for lack of a better idea, stepped outside. The stars overhead were bright and clear without a moon or city street lights to wash them out and pollute the sky.

Dr. Mathis was confused, and had far more questions now than he'd had when he arrived, but one thing had been answered. The man he'd seen in the coffee shop and the man he'd just spoken to were both the same man, and they weren't.

Dr. Mathis couldn't help but chuckle at the impossibility of it all as he climbed into his Jeep and drove back down the dark and dusty gravel road. The heavy metal gate opened as he approached and closed behind him, no guards in sight. After a few turns, Dr. Mathis found himself back on Highway 600, a small road through the mountains that wound down the valley to Mountain Grove.

Dr. Mathis found the Mountain Starlight Motel easily enough. It was small, and had no pool or hot tub, but the rooms were surprisingly clean and cozy. Dr. Mathis set his overnight back down nest to the queen sized bed with a hand-stitched quilt spread across it, and he leaned back against the wall. He tried to process everything he'd been through during the day, but his brain was still trying to settle the impossible disparity between the two Gregory Paites that he'd seen.

After a while, Dr. Mathis became aware of someone else in the room with him. "Hello, Mr. Paite," Dr. Mathis said, without opening his eyes. "I expected you might show up again, though perhaps I should call you Dr. Paite instead of Mr."

Gregory chuckled softly as Dr. Mathis opened his eyes and met the younger man's gaze. "No, Professor, as far as I'm concerned you can always call me Mr. Paite. Between the two of us, you'll always be the teacher, and I'll always be the student."

Dr. Mathis shook his head in mild disbelief. "I'm seeing you now, before me, and I know that you're also eight miles away at some research facility, carrying out an experiment on time. How do I reconcile the two things?"

Gregory looked at his feet for a moment, frowning in deep thought. Finally he sighed heavily and shrugged a bit. "You read to our class a part of Einstein's famous book on Relativity where he compares time and motion to passengers experiencing a train ride compared to observers on the train. Well, for all of human history, we've been locked on the train of time itself, moving along the track with the present moment. I figured out a way to stop the train. Once you stop it, you can move along it and enter again before the train restarts."

"So you are from the future, then?" Dr. Mathis asked, his logical brain demanding a definite reaffirmation of the conclusion to which he'd already arrived.

Gregory nodded slowly. "Yes," He said softly, "From your perspective, I'm from a little more than seven years in your future."

Dr. Mathis didn't say anything for a long moment as that response slowly sank in and he accepted it. "So how do you stop an unstoppable train, Mr. Paite?" He asked.

"The vessel has a skin that is cooled with liquid Helium," Gregory answered. "Once the outer skin, a thin layer of superconductive material, approaches absolute zero, we fire up a chamber of superconducting electromagnets and direct a spherical electromagnetic shell of immense intensity at the shell itself. With proper tuning, we can slow and even stop the subatomic spins of all the particles, bringing all motion to a complete stand still."

Dr. Mathis was nodding his head slowly now. "And once all motion stops, there's no change from one moment to the next. No method whatsoever of registering any change, and so no method of determining how much time has passed from moment to the next."

Gregory smiled. "That's right, Professor. And once you stop the train of time, you can essentially step off of it and move about."

"And you decided to come here, now, to visit me?" Dr. Mathis asked, suddenly suspicious. "Why?"

Gregory took a deep breath, and his face grew serious. There was a pain deep in his eyes as he met Dr. Mathis' gaze. "I tried to go back to set something right. And then I came back to stop you and your wife form being killed."

Dr. Mathis blinked and for a moment found that he couldn't form the words to make a response. "Nonsense," He sputtered when he finally found his voice again, "Who would want to kill us?"

Gregory shook his head slowly. "I think I'm to blame there," He admitted, "When I came back and placed bets under your name, I was trying to build a reputation I had to make a big bet, and to get that, I needed to build a name with the bookie for paying debts and for losing. Then, I'd have you bet the winner on the horse today. That worked like a charm, and I got greedy, so I took a chance. I didn't just fill out the betting ticket for the four races that I showed you. That was actually the copy from where I laid bets, most under your name and accounts linked to your name. I never thought anything bad would come of it. I just planned to collect the winnings and live rich off of them."

"So what happened to mess up your carefully laid plans?" Dr. Mathis growled.

"When I bounced back to my present, you were gone," Gregory whispered, his eyes on the floor. "I found the newspaper articles and read about a supposed break-in gone wrong that ended with the house burned to the ground and you and your wife dead in the ashes. I tried to go back and change it, tried to stop it from every happening. I tried to stop myself from placing the bets in the first place, but I couldn't."

"That would be a causal paradox," Dr. Mathis said absently as his brain spun, trying to process the news that he was about to die.

"Yes, and the delta factor makes those impossible." Dr. Mathis started to ask a question, but Gregory shook his head, "We don't have time for that now, Professor. I couldn't stop myself from making the bets, and I tried. I couldn't even enter the timeline with those intentions, no matter how deeply I tried to hide them in my subconscious."

"But you've found a way to stop it?" Dr. Mathis asked, "You're here, so you must have found a way."

Gregory heaved a heavy sigh, and shrugged his shoulder slightly. "I hope so, Dr. Mathis. Either that, or I'll end up collapsing this reality into a singularity in time and destroy the fabric of the cosmos as we know it. Either way, we've got just shy of twenty-four hours to find out."

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