A Temporal Trip
Riobo Bita Dougan
He gripped the back of his neck in silence as a million thoughts jousted for primacy in his mind. His company owned Africa’s largest behavioural data set, and he was selling it to a ravenous organisation intent on swallowing up other data collection companies. What could possibly go wrong?
The thoughts sunk into the deepest recesses of his mind as he stood up from the chair. He needed the money to fund his research into Spacetime
“Don’t think too much, brother. We are rich!” said Bobby Ondo, his best friend.
Carlos gave him a weak smile. Bobby and the rest just wanted the money and fame. They didn’t actually care about the possible repercussions of the sale.
He stood up and faced them all: Bobby had his usual smile, Teresa looked at him with lust in her eyes, and Vicente, warming up his palms together like a rapper about to begin a video shoot, was ready to start spending the money.
The short trip to his room was observed in silence. He entered and noticed his window was slightly ajar. The edge of it felt warm as he closed it. Down below, a hooded figure looked up at him.
The figure’s face was shrouded in darkness, so Carlos couldn’t recognise the strange person staring up at him. The figure dipped their hands into their pockets, turned and left.
Carlos heaved a sigh of relief. He turned and headed to the bathroom for a shower.
The Guarida de Baco was the biggest and most exclusive nightclub in the island city where Carlos lived the crème de la crème of society partied, did drugs, and fulfilled their deepest desires and depravities in Guarida.
Malinois, the head of security, stood in front of the entrance to the club. He smiled when he saw Carlos Bokoko and his posse.
He talked to the “tech bro” while his friends placed their fingers on a monitor that read and confirmed fingerprints.
Carlos placed his right thumb on the monitor, and an orange light coloured his fingerprint on the screen. He looked at Malinois in confusion.
Malinois took the monitor and looked at it, confusion all over his face. “The monitor says you are inside the club.”
“As you can see, I am out here with you, and I just came with my friends. I have been at home all day, so there is no way I am in there,” Carlos replied.
Malinois nodded his head. There must have been an error. He didn’t want to keep Carlos waiting – the rich were always ready to humiliate, to show the class difference between them and everyone else. He knew he had to go against protocol. Besides, Carlos was a regular. No need to offend a patron.
Malinois gave a fake smile. “You can go in, sir. It must be a mistake. Please enjoy yourself.”
Carlos nodded contemptuously and entered the club.
The smell of marijuana filled his lungs as he took a deep breath. Lights bathed him in a rainbow of colours as he smiled and raised his hands up.
He walked upstairs to the VIP section where his friends were seated. Flanking him on both sides as he moved were people taking drugs, others having sex, and the rest dancing frenziedly as Afrobeats music played through the speakers.
Teresa was the first to see him. She stood up, rushed to him, and took his lips into hers, biting into his lower lip when she released them. She placed her pinkie on the bite mark and took the drop of blood on it. Carlos flinched in pain.
“Don’t be a pussy baby.” She placed her pinkie into her mouth and sucked it.
Carlos smiled. Guarida brought out everyone’s real self. Here, there was no need to think about his troubles. He was going to have fun and worry about his problems tomorrow.
Teresa led him to a chair and straddled him. She dug her fingers into her bra and brought out a pill.
“Look what I found,” she said in a sinister tone.
The pill between her index and thumb was yellow, with red vines spreading from the centre. It was Phantazia.
The new recreational drug of the rich, it was produced by Ricardo Spector’s Hijack Pharmaceuticals (of course, you could never connect this product and the company). When ingested, it heightened the senses of the drug taker. You could feel decibels hit your ears, smell the pheromones from sweat, feel each hair react to touch, and taste a million and one things in a kiss. The drug’s greatest effect was how the mind reacted to it. With heightened senses, the drug taker interpreted the world differently – the world became a place of strange colours and creatures.
Carlos was ready for this trip. He opened his mouth, and Teresa placed the pill on his outstretched tongue.
A big gulp, and he closed his eyes. She moved her face to his armpit – she must have taken the pill too because she was getting aroused by the Androstenol in his sweat.
An EDM song started, and Teresa screamed as the sound waves crashed all over. Carlos held her and they moved to the dance floor. Her face started to glow – the drug was taking effect and the time for fun had begun.
They danced like beings cursed into strange gyration. Each sound wave slapped into their body, directing them into a new dance move. Pheromones seeped into them nasally, and their eyes played optical tricks as they moved unpredictably.
They held each other as the waves reduced, each with their face pressed against the neck of the other. Carlos raised his head. His eyesight was returning to its normal state, and something caught his attention.
A hooded figure was looking straight at him. He tried to get a good look at the person, but the colours were all wrong.
Teresa freed her hands from his arms and held his face, kissing him. He wanted to see who the hooded figure was, but the kiss brought an explosion of pleasure. He dug into the kiss, her fingernails pricked his arms, and they melted into each other.
Carlos felt cold steel on his neck, and his sensitive ears picked up the sound of slit flesh.
He removed his lips from hers. She looked at him with tears in her eyes. Blood oozed from a horizontal line on her neck. Carlos wanted to scream but it was stuck in his throat.
Teresa dropped to the floor with a thud.
Carlos was confused. He screamed, but electronic music drowned it out. The hooded figure was looking at him. He ran towards them.
The strange figure danced between people as they evaded their pursuer.
Carlos dug through bodies dancing in a trance, but he was lost in a mass of drunk and drugged-up dancers oblivious to the murder that had occurred on the dance floor. Giving up his pursuit, he ran back to the scene of the crime.
Teresa’s body was gone.
Confusion washed through him. He could have sworn he saw her lifeless body before he pursued her killer. What was going on?
Even the floor was bloodless, just the mud prints of boots on the ceramic tiles.
Bobby and the rest needed to know what was going on. Carlos stood up and ran as fast as his legs could carry him to where they were all together when they got into the club.
His left hand twitched as his heart began beating faster. Before him lay Vicente on a chair, lifeless, his eyeballs missing.
Carlos walked slowly towards his friend and touched his cheek.
“He is dead, and more will follow,” a familiar voice said.
Carlos turned around and saw the back of his target as they walked away.
“Wait, you bastard!” he screamed.
They began running, and Carlos did the same.
Too many people were in the club, so Carlos had to shove, shift, and fight his way forward as the hooded figure seemed to pass through people like the wind in the rainy season.
One of the people Carlos shoved aside held on to his collar and pulled Carlos to his face.
It was Bobby. “What is wrong with you, Carlos? Why the fuck are you running in a club?”
Carlos pointed at the hooded figure, who had stopped as if waiting for him, directing Bobby’s gaze towards them. “I am pursuing that person. He or she or I don’t fucking know killed Teresa and Vicente.”
“Are you serious?” Bobby looked at his friend with concern.
Carlos held his friend’s neck and looked straight into his eyes. “Do I look like I am fucking joking?”
Bobby let go of Carlos’s collar and stared at the strange person. “Let’s get that bastard.”
Underneath its hood, the mysterious person smiled, turned its back, and effortlessly weaved through crowds of people as it led its pursuers into a trap.
Carlos and Bobby followed the murderer into the Pleasure Ward, a floor in the building filled with rooms that patrons could book for sexual encounters. The figure entered a room and closed the door.
Bobby held onto the doorknob, but Carlos stopped him from opening it. Bobby looked at his friend in confusion.
“This room, it is mine and Teresa’s,” Carlos said.
“How did he get the passcode? And his voice sounded familiar.”
“I don’t care. Trust me, fam, that person in your room has to be caught.”
Carlos removed his hand from Bobby’s. Who is this person?
Bobby twisted the doorknob, and above it a hidden rectangular screen slid down. He looked at Carlos. Carlos nodded and typed in his passcode.
Bobby opened the door slowly, and they entered.
The hooded stranger was crouched over the corpses of Teresa and Vicente.
“Oh shit! ” Bobby screamed.
Bobby squeezed Carlos’ shoulder then turned around in fear, with the intention to run.
“I can’t let you do that, Bobby,” said the hooded figure in a masculine voice they both recognised.
Without looking at them, he held out his left hand, palm facing down, and drew his fingers together to form a fist. Bobby fell to his knees.
Carlos looked at the figure, then at his friend. He knelt beside Bobby. “What is going on?”
“Something he cannot understand,” said the strange man.
Weakness and age washed through Bobby as he wrinkled up in front of his best friend. With all his might and pain in his voice, he said, “You are … You are … You are…”
Bobby fell into Carlos’ embrace.
Carlos cradled the aged body of his friend as tears freely flowed down his cheeks.
“No need to cry. His death and their deaths are neither consequential nor chronological.” The hooded figure turned to face Carlos.
Tears clouded his vision as the stranger brought down his hood. Carlos cleared his eyes and stared at the man standing before him.
He dropped Bobby’s body gently and moved slowly toward the person in front of him.
“How is this possible?”
“You made it possible. Or you could say we made it possible,” said Carlos back to his younger self.
Carlos swallowed the built-up saliva in his mouth as he stepped backward from this creature who wore his face.
“What are you?” The young Carlos asked.
“I am you. Or who you will become.” Older Carlos smiled.
He turned his back to his younger self and went to the window. He looked down and sighed.
“We did it. We mastered space and time,” he said as he turned away from the window. He moved toward Carlos, who was paralysed with fear. “Relax, now is not the time to shiver like a wet puppy.”
“Why wouldn’t I get scared? You just killed my friends!” he spat. With newfound resolve, he stood straight. “You shouldn’t be able to kill me. Don’t do it. Don’t forget the Grandfather Paradox.”
The older Carlos smiled. “Is this you begging?” He shook his head. “I did what I did because it was the only way.”
“Only way for what?”
“Only way for you to listen to me and take this seriously.”
“Take what seriously?”
Elder Carlos moved closer to his younger self. “This is not the first time we are having this conversation. We have had this conversation so many times that I have stopped counting.”
The younger one’s eyes grew larger in realisation. “This is not your first trip to the past?”
Carlos had so many questions to ask, “How did we do it? How did we conquer time?”
He moved to close the gap between them and held his older self. This was the product of years of research to come. He was right, and his professors were wrong – man could bend the laws of physics to his will.
“What was it, an Einstein-Rosen bridge? Or maybe enlarged microscopic wormholes? How did I do it?”
“You know I can’t give you a definite answer. It is for you to find out. Trial and error, yes?” A pause and then, “Carlos, you have to stop the sale of the company. It will bring about the end of the world.”
Carlos shook his head in disagreement. “No. No, I can’t. If I do that, then we don’t have the funding for the space-time project. Don’t forget we have to avoid paradoxes.”
The elder sighed. “Forget the paradox. Some are real, and others are not. Paradox-free time travel is possible. There is mathematics for it.”
The younger self didn’t agree. He knew all about the paradoxes. He spent days and nights running through notes with experts in the field and in internal discussions with himself.
“No. If we don’t sell, then we have no money for the project.” His future self looked annoyed, so he grabbed his shoulder. “Look at it this way: since this isn’t your first trip to the past, it means me not agreeing to this is how you can even come back here multiple times.”
His hand was firmly gripping the shoulder of his future self, but, in an instant, he was holding onto empty space. He looked in surprise and found the older version of himself staring out the window.
“Do you know what happens after we sell the company?It all goes to shit. The world went to shit.”
He turned to face his younger self. “I have mastered time and space but not destiny. They used our data sets to predict human behaviour. Then they started controlling humans. A Technostate was created. Humans became ants, each with his title and responsibilities.” He raised his palms and looked at them. “We all became prisoners of a company, deep down in the deserts of the North. The AI was learning and becoming self aware.” Tears streamed down his face. “When we think of machine versus human encounters in movies, we always think in militaristic terms. How wrong we were. The AI had all our secrets. It all started with random information, like a wife finding out her husband was a cheat and turned into countries finding out their allies were building nuclear weapons.” With anger in his eyes, he looked at his younger self. “We destroyed ourselves – man to man and nation to nation. The AI just showed us who we truly were deep down, and we burnt the world.”
His body flickered in and out of existence with his last words. “Like I said, I have conquered space and time, but I have also become a fugitive.” Taking a deep breath, he begged again, “Please don’t sell our company.”
Carlos listened to the story and the plea. So many thoughts circled his mind. He bowed his head in deliberation.
“How sure are you that this will work? That not selling the company will stop this apocalypse?”
The elder Carlos took a deep breath before answering, “Time is a dangerous servant. I have tried other methods, but this is the only way left.”
“You say some paradoxes are real and some are not. What then happens if this trip causes the universe to self-correct to avoid deviations?”
“I am sure it won’t, trust me.”
“You say you have mastered space and time but not destiny. If you know the state of a system from the beginning to the end, then you will master destiny.”
The elder grew impatient. “You forget we are mortal. What you are saying is only possible if I simultaneously experience the past, present, and future. I am no god.”
He teleported behind his younger self and grabbed him in a chokehold. “We have debated enough. I am no god, but in front of you and the rest, I can be perceived to be one.” He squeezed harder. “I’ll tell you how I did it – how I made mathematical symbols and calculations into real observable and testable phenomena. I created particles with negative mass. I stabilised bridges that connected points in space and time.” He moved his younger self closer to the window. “That creation was the basis for time travel. In fact, you can call me a god.”
Carlos spun his other self around so they were face to face. “This might look like the end, but it isn’t. Remember, some paradoxes are true, and please trust me.”
The younger Carlos realised what his older self wanted to do, but he wasn’t fast enough. He couldn’t stop his older self from shoving him through the window.
As he dropped down to his death, flashes of his past squeezed themselves into the forefront of his memory. Tears filled his eyes as shards of glass tore his skin and guided him in his descent. The face looking down at him from above never broke its gaze as he landed head first on the ground.
“Sir! Sir! Sir, are you okay?”
His ears picked up sound, and he opened his eyes. Towering over him was Malinois.
“Sir, are you okay?”
Carlos pushed Malinois aside. “Someone pushed me through the window upstairs.”
“But no one did, sir,” the bewildered security guard replied.
Carlos touched his head. It was dry. He looked around, searching for shards of glass, but there were none. He looked up and saw the window of the room he was just shoved out of.
Malinois held onto him as he staggered in confusion.
He looked at Malinois. “What is going on?”
“People saw you laying on the ground. I was alerted to it, and I came to help.”
He took in a deep breath and noticed it stayed in his lungs, refusing to be exhaled. He held his neck in fear as his lungs relented and released their content. He bent and placed his hands on his legs.
He stood up and looked at Malinois. “You can leave now. I am fine.”
Carlos looked at Malinois and noticed he was frozen. He looked all around him, and it was the same. Time had stopped.
He turned around and met his older self. Carlos stepped back in fear. “Please don’t come close to me.”
“Time can’t be stopped. I can’t stop time, but I can bend space and control the flow of time. I just put it on ultra slow-mo.”
“Did you just read my mind?”
“I didn’t have to. Time manipulation has strange effects, so I am having a case of temporary memory: I am remembering things and memories you’ve had and will have.”
“You tried to kill me.”
“Fear is a crippling emotion. It stops us from being rational. You forgot my words. Remember my words.”
The elder Carlos looked up at the sky and back at his younger self. “If I wanted to kill you, I would have to excise myself from this reality. I would have to become a space-time vagabond.” He flickered in and out of reality as he continued, “I can’t kill my younger self.”
The younger Carlos remembered the last words he heard before he was pushed: “Remember, some paradoxes are true, and please trust me.” Realisation flooded him; this was all to make him understand his elder self had a good grasp of the timeline, and he had to put his faith in him.
He looked at the Pseudo-deity in front of him. “What about my friends whom you killed?”
“It never mattered. We can just slip back into the past and resume like nothing ever happened. Every sin I have committed tonight can be atoned for. Like I said earlier, I have tried convincing you before, but it never worked.”
He closed the distance between them. “But I feel you get what I mean now. Promise you won’t sell it, and everything will get back to normal.”
Carlos smiled for the first time in hours and nodded. He wasn’t going to sell his company.
The elder Carlos smiled, placed his left hand on the younger’s chest, and transported him to another point in time.
Carlos Bokoko dropped the phone after the call. It was certain: he wasn’t going to sell his company. His friends all looked at him in surprise and anger. He didn’t care. He was glad they were all okay.He stood up and hugged each of them. They all accepted his embrace in bewilderment. He went to the front door and opened it. He had a visitor waiting for him.
The hooded figure dropped his hood the moment he saw Carlos cross the road separating them.
Carlos hugged his elder self. “How are you sure things will be better in the future?”
Seconds passed then the elder sighed. “Nothing is certain when it comes to time, but this is a deviation from all our previous encounters.”
He flickered in and out of reality. “I am being drawn back to my time.”
“What causes that?” the younger asked.
“I told you I was a fugitive. When you play god, forces will relate to you in equal measure.” He looked at his confused younger self. “No need to bother about me. You keep on doing what you are doing. If there is a God, he will grant me nothingness so I can fade away.”
They walked in silence, two beings from different points in time who once shared a destiny.
The elder stopped. “I feel the pull; it is stronger. I have to go now.” He looked at the younger Carlos with all the care he could muster as pain shot through every nerve in his body.
They locked eyes, the younger knowing he would master space-time someday and the older happy he had erased an apocalyptic future.
The elder Carlos took his last breath as each cell in his body burst into a time bridge.
Riobo Bita Dougan was born on the volcanic island of Bioko, Equatorial Guinea. Riobo considers folk tales and family to be the most important things to him. If he isn’t spending time with family or researching myths and legends, you can always find him burying his feet in the sand at various beaches on the island of his birth.