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“This one is one of my favorites,” the librarian said with a mysterious smile. She handed me the book with one of her crackly, wrinkled hands.
I nodded. “All right. Thanks for the help,” I said. I looked down at the cover, old maroon leather, rubbed smooth from years of wear. “Hey, there’s no title!” I looked up, but the old woman was gone. Perplexed, I turned it over in my hands, and went down into a chair. The spine was unmarked, the same with the back cover.
Leaning back, I flipped open to the publication page. Copyright… the year was smudged, I couldn’t read it. I turned to the title page, and squinted at the miniscule words in the center of the page.
'An Encyclopedia of Time and Space, as well as Space-Time and Time-Space, not excluding Future, Past, Present, Heretofores, and Whences.'
Well, that was clear as mud. I flipped to the table of contents, and skimmed my eyes down the list, growing ever more skeptical by the second.
Conundrums and Paradoxes—the Most Complex of the Simplest Problems
Whence: What does it mean? Where does it come from? When does it go?
Space-Time is not Only for Scientists
Time Travel And Space Travel—beware, Objects in Future are Closer than they Appear
Past doesn’t always come before Present—In fact, it’s sometimes after!
Heretofore—from Here and Now to There and Then
In Conclusion? Can there ever be conclusion? Really?
I was interested in spite of myself. I checked the time, and the library’s enormous clock rang two just as I flicked my eyes up to it. All right then, I had time.
I tucked my legs up, Indian-style, and started decoding the introduction.
You have in your hands the only encyclopedia of Space and Time, Time-Space, and Space-Time, including Heretofores, Whences, past, futures, and present. Something along those lines. By embarking on an enlightening journey such as this one, you enter a doorway to understanding the Space, Time, and Dimension you live in today—well, the Space, Time, and Dimension that you are currently residing in as you read this book.
The path to understanding is long and twisted, occasionally crossing a site of roadkill, or passing through a puddle that rapidly swells to the size of a pond the moment your foot punctures the surface, the water sending unstoppable ripples to the very edges of the body. You could just as easily enter a forest filled with all sorts of lovable rabbits and other nonviolent mammals as a rocky ravine filled with ravenous cockatrices and various poisonous reptiles—such is the fragility of the spaces and times we live in.
By deciding to read this book—be it book or scroll or digipad—you have decided to learn more about the worlds around you. And know you that not all worlds are safe or friendly, not all worlds are here or there, not all worlds are like yours. There are others out there, separated by merely a veil. If you turn the page, you’ll step through.
I wish you the best of luck, my fellow explorer.
I couldn’t read the signature at the bottom and wondered briefly how it was pronounced. I flipped to the next page—Chapter One, Conundrums and Paradoxes. There were a bunch of hand-drawn diagrams, all with circles or straight lines, often arrows, all intersecting. They were labeled by a small, scribbly handwriting that looked like the writer not only was twitching profusely, but had been pressed for time as well. The text, thank goodness, was all in print—I mean, typed print, not handwriting.
Well, congratulations, this is the first real chapter. Apparently, the introduction didn’t scare you off. You’ve taken a step… you won’t be able to finish the journey until you’ve taken five thousand more.
So, conundrums and paradoxes. Essentially, they are things that have happened, but because of their happening, they could not have happened. What’s that? The sound of your current dimension imploding? No, but we’ll get to that later.
There are two famous paradoxes that come to mind—The Grandfather Paradox, and the Paradox of the Liars. We’ll start with the latter, although it has nothing to do with time itself.
The Paradox of the Liars… We’ll use, say, Andromeda and Tutankhamen. Andromeda says, ”I lie.” And Tutankhamen, to the audience, says, “She’s telling the truth.”
Well, if Andromeda is telling the truth about lying, then clearly, she must be lying. With me? However, if she’s lying, and is claiming to be lying, then she must be telling the truth. So now, she’s telling the truth about lying. Which mean’s she’s lying... about lying. So she’s telling the truth. She is either doing one or the other—but which is it?
This is an example of a Verbal Paradox. Generally, it will not impact the universe you’re residing in. Generally.
Now, to the marginally more interesting Grandfather Paradox. This is the basic, most primeval warning against time travel (a later chapter, don’t worry), and perhaps the most truthful when it comes to the dangers of such.
Dangers? I felt a little, gnawing feeling deep in my gut. Well, best to press on, I convinced myself. A voice in the back of my head warned cynically against going any farther, but I ignored it.
Maximillian has decided to go back in time by various means (Again, a later chapter.). He travels back approximately sixty-five years, before the birth of his parents. Sadly, through his own misfortune and misadventure, his actions in the past result in the death of his grandfather.
So here we are in the past. And here’s where the paradox part comes in. If Maximillian has killed his grandfather, then he couldn’t have been born—his grandfather never would have had the son or daughter that would have had Maximillian as a son. But if Maximillian hasn’t been born, then how could he have killed his grandfather? Hence, his grandfather is still alive. And so, he must have been there for Maximillian to inadvertently kill. I could go on, but for time reasons (as opposed to those of space and dimensions), I shall not.
Oh. Danger. Right. So, no time travel—you’ll kill an ancestor, and then where would you be? Oh, that’s right. You wouldn’t, I thought. Well, something like that.
I felt someone’s eyes on me, and twisted in the chair. I looked back, and saw an old woman—a librarian?—sitting at the help desk. She looked vaguely familiar… where had I seen her before?
Her head snapped up from her computer, suddenly, and looked me right in the eye. I started, and felt something like an electric shock go through me. She winked, very clearly. Her gaze switched to the book in my hands, and she had a strange, almost manipulative smile on her ageless face. I looked down, following her gaze, and let out a gasp.
The words—they’d changed! Changed… how? I stared at them, almost afraid to move the pages at all, and they seemed to shiver with new meaning. Suddenly, I understood perfectly. Paradoxes—ha! Child’s play. Instantly, my fingers began to flip through the pages, and I could feel something compelling me to read about time travel. The voice in the back of my head grew more frantic now. But I couldn’t stop, I was only just learning…
Suddenly, out of nowhere, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I jerked.
“The book, my dear,” the librarian said. She held out her hand, a disagreeable, disappointed look on her face. Reluctantly, I handed her the book, and she tucked it into her pocket swiftly.
I shook, unreasonably angry. I opened my mouth to reprimand her (Me! An inexperienced, human child! How on earth could I have the nerve to do that?!), but she, with surprising strength, shot out a hand grasped my chin firmly. Shocked into silence, I squirmed, indignant and terrified.
The air seemed to freeze, to get colder. The people around us slowed.
“You did not read this book. It was never handed to you.” Her voice thundered with unshakable power.
Well, of course I didn’t! That moldy old piece of leather, why would I even touch it? My face contorted, and I was utterly disgusted with myself.
“You’ve forgotten what it said, forgotten all its images.” Again, I couldn’t look away from her eyes, they were dark, compelling…
What book? And even if I’d seen it (It? What?), why would I remember anything?
“You’ve never seen me.”
I’d never seen this woman, ever before in my life.
“You never will, you aren’t now.”
She (Who?) released me, and I slumped in my chair, utterly drained of life and energy. My eyes sank closed. In the blackness of my eyelids, in half-consciousness, I heard a voice. So vaguely familiar…
“Sir, the child was a disappointment. He barely made it to the first chapter before the Temptations got to him.”
“Truly? Well, a shame. We’d marked him as potentially successful in interdimensional travel, did we not?”
“It was a mistake, I believe. Perhaps, he would do better in the biophisiology field?”
A contemplative silence.
“That may indeed be the case. Those two Fields in particular are quite different. They’d not cause two problems in the same being, would they?”
“I do not believe so, sir.”
“Very well, then. See how he handles the Biophysiology Manual. We’ve only got so long before he grows up, after all…”