Time travel is a risky endeavour. Josh made one little mistake and has been trying to fix it ever since, but causality is always a complicated business.
“Well, I suppose you might say that I broke the first rule of time travel,” Josh said as he sadly swirled the last of his tea around the bottom of his mug. Daisy, his long-suffering assistant, recently returned from her holiday, tried to smile reassuringly. “You have to avoid getting involved. I mean, it’s right there on page one of the manual.” He sighed and put the mug down, then ran his hands over his eyes. He was exhausted. His long hair, usually tied neatly into a ponytail, was unkempt from the sleepless nights he’d endured recently.
“I’m sure you did all you could,” Daisy said.
“The problem is,” Josh continued, “you just end up making things worse. I mean, it was pretty innocent to start with. I went back to an interesting time period – who doesn’t want to see the Roman Empire, you know? – and I guess I just met a few people and I got dragged along to a party and…well…one thing led to another…”
Daisy pointed to the device on the table. “You got a bit drunk and showed off the matter transmorpher?”
“I just thought they’d get a kick out of it!” Josh said, spreading his hands helplessly. “It was a bit of fun! Plus they’d run out of booze anyway…” He slumped down in his chair. It was a sunny day outside, and the view from his laboratory window showed the reassuring rooftops of Lincoln, the place where he’d grown up and always felt most at home. Today, it all seemed a little threatening though. Today, he was in a different world. “When I got back after that,” he said quietly, “I checked the internet, like you’re supposed to, and I found a couple of references. They’d built a little cult around me somehow, conflated me with some rabbi back then or something. It wasn’t much, but enough to earn me a hefty fine from the Ministry of Causality if it ever came to light. And I’d probably lose my time traveller’s license into the bargain.”
“So you thought you’d try to make it right yourself?” Daisy shook her head as she took a sip from her own mug. “You know that never works.”
“I know. I went back and…ugh…I tried to distance myself from this preacher guy. Got a good thirty or so years clear, I figured, but it didn’t do any good. I turned up in this bloody desert and…well, things kept going wrong. What was I supposed to do? Just not feed those starving people? Not save that drowning fisherman? I have the technology.”
“You’re not supposed to interfere,” Daisy said sternly. “But that doesn’t sound so bad, to be honest. What’s one little cult?”
“It didn’t stop there,” Josh said darkly.
He put his hands over his face again. “I thought…I thought if I went back and started causing trouble, maybe they wouldn’t revere me. Like, became some sort of criminal, I suppose. I whipped up some harmless rebellion, got myself arrested and I thought that’d be the end of it. Who’d worship a convict?”
“I take it it didn’t work?”
“It had the opposite effect! And I forgot how harsh those Roman punishments were. I managed to slip away before I got into any real problems, but being stuck up on there for so long is no picnic, let me tell you.” He rolled his aching shoulders.
“Hm….picnic…” Daisy said.
“I think you need to relax. We should go for a picnic later.”
“You’re thinking about picnics at a time like this?!”
“There’s really nothing we can do,” she said philosophically, “just go to the Ministry tomorrow, tell them everything and they’ll send specialists back to fix it. They know more about this kind of thing than you.”
“But what about my work, Daisy? I’ll lose my licence. They’ll take my machine away.”
“For a year maybe. You can catch up on your research papers. You’ve been doing field work for months now. This could be the sabbatical you’ve been trying to find time for.”
“Maybe,” Josh said, rubbing his beard thoughtfully. “I do have an idea though…”
“You really shouldn’t…”
“No no,” Josh said, holding up a hand. “I think I’ve figured it out. I just need to go back and explain everything. Tell them I’m a con artist or something. A magician. A fraud. I’ll show up a few days after I supposedly died, make a big song and dance and they’ll see it was all a trick. They’ll run me out of the city.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“They may be primitive, superstitious savages, but they’re not idiots, Daisy. They’ll see through me in an instant. And history will forget the whole thing.”
Daisy didn’t look convinced, but he was the boss. She looked down into her tea. “If you think that’s best,” she said.
A few hours later, Josh returned to the present in a flash of light. He climbed out of his time machine and went into the kitchen where Daisy was packing the hamper for the promised picnic. “How did it go?” she asked him over her shoulder.
“Pretty well, I think. I really made a fool of myself – fed them a whole bunch of obvious nonsense and I think we can safely say I discredited whatever wisdom they thought I imparted before.”
“Lovely.” Daisy put the sandwiches in the hamper and turned with a bright smile. “I thought we might go and eat this by the cathedral.”
Josh frowned. “By the what?”
Daisy pointed out of the window. “Um…the big building over there…?”
Josh looked out and his mouth dropped open as he beheld the extravagant gothic spires of the huge building that now reared above the gentle skyline of his beloved Lincoln, where once had stood the low, familiar shape of the Wotenmoot Hall. “Uh oh…” he said softly.