The Maelstrom

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Chapter-4

Novikov’s self-consistency principle- Even if any event exists that would cause a paradox or any “change” to the past whatsoever, then the probability of that event is zero.

A breathless silence settled down in our booth. My heart was still pounding heavily against my chest, but there was nothing romantic about my growing tachycardia. It was anticipated that my conversation regarding A-SATT wouldn’t be following a naturally idyllic course per se; but Rhys’ insular discordance with my ideas downright unsettled me.

His hatred towards the beliefs of A-SATT was confusing and absolutely baseless; considering the fact that his grandfather basically ran the organization.

I let out a loud sigh, disappointedly thinking about the strange turn today’s events had taken.

Looking at my state with concern, Brianna tried to console me, “Don’t mind him. It has been a long day for all of us and everyone has their own way of venting out.” Side-hugging me, she pushed her untouched drink in my direction, as mine right now was dripping half the table and also the front portion of my coat.

Courtesy of Rhys.

“Yeah, he’s a fool.” Keith said matter-of-factly. “Moreover, everyone knows that I am the better option.” He said wiggling his eyebrows.

I let out a soft laugh at Keith’s attempt at consolation and gave them a tight-lipped smile, taking a sip of the drink Brianna had given me.

Suddenly, Brianna’s phone buzzed back to life. Looking over at it, she said, “My friend just texted me. She’s here to pick me up. Would you like us to drop you home?” Asking, she got up from her seat, looking at me expectedly.

I politely declined the offer and although, she strongly insisted on her suggestion, I wished to stay alone for a little while longer. Rhys’ opinions about the organization and time travel were slowly eating away the awe and respect I had regarding it, and I wanted to think about it in detail and in peace.

Waving me goodbye, she went out of the door.

These guys weren’t as bad as I had thought them to be. They might not be trained time travellers, but undoubtedly, they were terrific people. At least 2 out of 3.

Looking at me with soft eyes, hesitatingly, Keith handed me a tissue, “I am not very good in these matters, but give me a call if you need me.” He awkwardly scratched the back of his neck while looking down at the floor.

I gave him a confused glance, but flipping the paper around, I saw his phone number scribbled across it. I folded the piece of paper and giving him a soft nod, slid it down the pocket of my coat.

Leaving his placid halo of repose, Keith abruptly stood up; and with the enthusiasm of a five-year-old, announced with pure joy, “You know, the best way to melt away the blues is to drink ’em down!” Smiling widely, he continued, “And as the generous bartender of a respectable business, drinks are on me!”

The remaining vestiges of sadness that I still harboured were slowly dissolving away with each passing second. Evidently, Keith’s attempt at brightening up the sombre atmosphere was definitely doing the trick and I could feel myself smiling goofily at him.

Unfortunately, the dark reality of the travel extricated me back from thinking about the possibilities a good alcoholic drink would bring along with it. Presently, it was the moment of severe brainstorming and I would especially need a sober state to do that.

“As much as I appreciate your offer, I am going to get an earful from dad for skipping work to come down to Patty’s. I don’t really wish to add alcohol to the equation.” Explaining, I again took a sip of the drink.

Keith stood up from the seat. Still grinning like a child, he added, “I should probably be leaving then, can’t afford to get late three times in a row.”

He walked out of the booth and waved me goodbye in an overly-exaggerated movement, before exiting the place, leaving the remnants of a now disappearing smile on my face.

I looked around the restaurant; it was peacefully stagnant. Except for the occasional scurry of the waiters and the sweet aroma of coffee wafting in the air, the ambience was unusually still for a Saturday evening. I closed my eyes ruminating over today’s events with disconcerted heaviness shrouding my sense of reasoning.

I sat motionless at my spot, thinking about nothing and everything at the same time. Thousands of thoughts were playing in rapid succession in my brain at lightning speed, but I couldn’t concentrate on any one in particular. It was absolutely impossible for me to make sense of Mr. Neville’s decision; but then again, if the scrolls said so, the agreement would unfortunately be irrevocable.

I let out a loud sigh in defeat, and getting up from my seat, placed twenty pounds on the table as the pecuniary requirements, before trotting out of the restaurant.

The moment I walked across the dimly lit street; little drops of rain fell on my head. And as lady luck would have it, in a matter of seconds a full-blown rainfall took place of the light drizzle. And there I stood in the middle of it all, without any means of transportation or an umbrella.

Great! Five years living in London and I still didn’t learn anything. I was planning to walk to the bus stop and board the bus, but looking at the erratic rainfall; presently I highly doubt that possibility.

Carefully manoeuvring through the slippery surface, I took shelter under the projecting window-sill of the restaurant and began scrolling through my phone for dad’s number. It would be humanly impossible for me to make it to the bus stop without getting drenched; and liquids on my clothes right now was not a very pleasing idea; especially after the little stunt Rhys pulled, involving a carbonated drink and my now ruined-cashmere coat.

Trying dad’s phone for the nth time, I was sent to voicemail. I was still in deep thought contemplating over the way to get home and then maybe give dad a lecture about checking up on his daughter once in a while, especially after receiving a severely inane order from the head; when someone stood beside me, the umbrella hiding the person’s face.

“I thought you could use a ride.”

I was awakened from my despondent daydream by a low, raspy voice emanating from beside me. Surprised by the sudden interruption, inadvertently, I took a few steps back to create some distance between the mysterious stranger and myself.

The stranger gently pushed the umbrella towards me revealing a pair of stormy blue eyes scrutinising my trembling form.

Realising the identity of the stranger, I immediately took a defensive stance and crossed my arms around my chest in a futile attempt to appear intimidating and also to conserve some of my body heat.

Voicing out my thoughts, I muttered in a peeved tone, “What are you doing here, Rhys?”

If he had come here to engage in another scream-fest with me, I was seriously going to lose it. There is so much distress that my poor nerves can handle.

It was in times like these I wish I had a sniper ready and loaded.

I gave him a pointed glance urging him to explain his unrequired presence. Clearly affected by my hostility, Rhys looked down at the now wet pavement and clenched his jaw, his eyes not meeting mine for a long time. Ultimately, in a defeated voice, he replied, “I am sorry.”

For what exactly? I was itching to ask him.

However, I was in a desperate need for a ride and acting stuck-up would probably lead to further problems. Thus, unwillingly swallowing my ego down like a week-old tuna casserole, and tightly shutting my eyes in disgust at the mere mental imagery of the dish, I slightly nodded my head in affirmation, not looking at him.

He started walking towards his car, with me hurriedly following suit. Closing the door of the passenger seat I let out a small sigh while Rhys turned on the ignition.

For a few minutes none of us spoke anything. Except for my occasional ‘turn right’ or ‘go straight’, there was an awkward silence in the car. I was shivering from the cold; and the fact that I was drenched in water further added to the chill in my bones.

I just hope I do not get sick. Because my father’s idea of a get-well-soon soup is at the top five of Luke’s favourite ‘dare-dishes.’

Noticing my constant shivering from his peripheral vision, Rhys increased the temperature of the AC. “You’re not from around here.” He finally said.

“What gave it away?” I laughed nervously.

Of course, I knew the answer to that. I had a very noticeable accent, and the fact that I travelled outside without an umbrella in the cold October, was clearly enough for any sane person to base his observation on.

“You are from the US?” He asked, his interest clearly piqued.

“Yeah, Wisconsin to be specific.” I answered. “We moved to London after my mo-” I stopped myself at the right time. Somehow, talking about my mom still made me uncomfortable; and I would certainly not be discussing my life-story with Rhys.

Clearing my throat, I continued, “After my dad got transferred to the A-SATT hq at London, five years ago.” I finished with a loud sigh, mentally grateful for stopping myself at the right time and coming up with something less controversial.

It wasn’t entirely false. After mom’s death, dad and I both agreed that we needed a change of scenery. Everything back in Wisconsin reminded me of mom; and being an adolescent at the time, didn’t really ease the situation. It was no less than a miracle that dad’s request of changing countries was met with elated response from the organization.

Turning towards Rhys, I noticed that he was staring right ahead, looking at the road. He appeared troubled, maybe even angry. But I wanted to ask him something. Something that had been troubling me the moment I had laid my eyes on him.

Gathering courage, I began, “There’s one thing I don’t understand about you.” I looked up at him, waiting to see how he would react. He tightened his grip around the steering and responded with nothing but silence. I guess it’s my cue to continue.

“You are Mr. Neville’s grandson, the grandson of the head of A-SATT,” I said slowly, “How come you had no idea about the time travel business?” I asked him, curiosity overflowing through my system.

It was odd to say the least that he wasn’t a part of the travelling crew. Usually, A-SATT is a family business. If you’re born in it. You’re a part of it. The idea is aimed at ensuring to keep the existence of A-SATT a guarded secret from the public. The lesser people know about it, the better.

He didn’t answer my question right away and continued to sport a big frown on his face. Evidently, I would not be getting an answer anytime soon, so I stared outside the window, looking at the houses that were passing us by and then dissolving into the shadows of darkness- just like the various dimensional timelines which cease to exist once A-SATT ‘changes’ them and causes them to disappear into the quagmire of space-time oblivion.

But my philosophical parallelism unifying space-time journey with the macroscopic objects of the world, was suddenly cut short by Rhys.

“What do you think about time travel?” He asked me in a low, deep whisper; so much so, I would have completely failed to hear him if it were not for the fact that my senses presently were unusually receptive.

What I thought about time travel?

Well, it was definitely a feat of human advancement and a major milestone for our civilization. It had allowed us to answer many questions regarding the infinite multiverse theory and yet at the same time, in a way, challenged everything that we had always believed in.

As if reading my thoughts, he quickly added, “And I am not asking it from a general standpoint which you might have read in one of your science books. I am asking your personal opinion on the matter.”

I took in a deep breath and shutting my eyes closed, began in a soft whisper, “For me to answer that question, I would have to observe a world where time travelling isn’t a thing. Only by comparing the conditions there with respect to this world, can I tell you my answer. For now, taking it all into consideration, I would have to say that due to the scarcity of evidence, time-travelling isn’t such a bad idea.” I concluded my monologue and again started staring out of the window, thinking about what Rhys had asked me.

For all we know, our constant trips to the past could be the reason that our world had not yet ended in an apocalypse; or maybe these trips could be the reason for our world not transcending into a paradise. Ultimately, it all ended on mere guesswork.

But my fondness towards time-travel may also stem from the fact that the thought excites me. Physicists have always dreamed of the possibility; writers have conjured up fantastical stories regarding the topic and I felt tremendously lucky to be a part of it all and basically living the dream.

Turning my attention back to Rhys, I asked him, “You clearly seem to be against the whole concept. Then, why did you agree to join A-SATT in the first place?”

I admit I was traversing through uncharted territories, but what can I say, my middle name is ‘guts.’

Taking in a deep breath, Rhys ran his left hand through his hair and in a defeated tone replied, “I have been offered a second chance at life if I go to these travels with you.”

It was now my turn to do a double-take. What exactly did he mean by that! For a few seconds I stared at him in disbelief. Is he being blackmailed; abused? Looking over at his six feet 3 inches tall frame and muscles practically bulging out of his black shirt, someone intimidating him seemed like a joke. Moreover, he appeared young, my best guess maybe 25; so going through a midlife crisis at this stage again seemed like an impossibility.

Are there things bad enough in this world that can even scare Rhys and make him do something he clearly hates? I shuddered at the mere thought.

He clearly appeared devastated. Whatever his grandfather had on Rhys was certainly serious and there was no denying the fact that he was suffering excruciatingly under the stress of it all.

“Hey,” I began in a soft voice, “If you need to talk about it, maybe I can help you.” I said, eying him cautiously and waiting for his response.

The car came to screeching stop. I shielded my head with both my arms as I flung forward due to inertia and collided with the headboard. Stabilising myself, I looked around the car’s vicinity to make out any obstacle that might have caused Rhys to decide to give me a broken arm.

Looking at the completely deserted road, I practically shouted, “What stuff you’re on? And can I have some of that too!?”

Rhys was staring at me with anger evident in his eyes. In a calm, composed voice, he replied, “You don’t see me sniffing around your personal life. So just back off, before its too late.”

"So, that’s what they call ‘caring for someone’ nowadays. Sniffing around?"

I gave him an incredulous look, not understanding what was that I said which affected him in such a way. It was because of people like him that chainsaws and body bags were invented.

“Gee, thank you. A simple ‘Don’t worry, I am fine’ would have sufficed.” I said sourly and looked away.

Opening the car door, I stepped outside, the rain falling like painful water pellets on my exposed body. I shivered at the chill engulfing me as a strong gust of wind blew past the street, fluttering my coat in its trail.

I knew the street pretty well. My house would be just a ten minutes’ walk away. And although the rain was pouring heavily, I’d rather take my chances with my feet than share the same car space with Rhys.

I guess walking it is.

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