This was originally written for /r/WritingPrompts: “[WP] Paradox Objects are items time travellers have left in the past that somehow became the very thing that ends up in the traveller’s possession to take back in the first place. Rare and indestructible, these artefacts cannot be created deliberately and are consequently highly sought after.”.
I decided to take some liberties with the prompt, and I had to go back and simplify the plot after it got out of hand, but I think I stayed true to the basic idea. Writing the whole thing in present tense was, ironically, a mistake in hindsight.
You can’t change the past. It’s absolutely impossible. It’s not that you can travel back in time to kill your grandfather, only for your hand to be stayed by an irresistible force - it’s that if you going back in time would result in you killing your grandfather, the wormhole will simply never form in the first place. As a result, time travel is as much a question of self-control as it is of engineering. Only those with unbending wills and perfect devotion, who can resist the temptation to change what’s already happened, could hope to go back in the first place, or to send anything else back in time.
But if you do have those things, then, strictly speaking, nothing can stop you from traveling through time. You don’t even need a time machine.
I’m carrying a cloak. Or, since it’s a Paradox Object, I suppose it’s a Cloak, though I admit that assigning capital letters to secular nouns like that always felt a bit blasphemous. The Cloak is not technically bulletproof, but as far as I’m concerned it’s better - there are no blood stains or holes in it, so until my past self shows up to ask me for it, no bullets will pass through it. And I’ll give the Cloak to him, when he arrives. I made a vow, and I keep my vows.
But right now, I’m praying that he doesn’t show up for another few minutes. Inside the Coat, little Anastasia is wrapped up as many times around as I could wrap her, crying softly as I sprint through another burst of bullets to the ruins of the choir loft. I suppose I’m in some senses an Object too, since I’ve seen my future self alive, but I’m still scared. In theory, I’m immortal for the next little bit of time. In practice, even Our Lord prayed in the garden that He might be spared the cup. But not my will but Thine be done.
I suppose it was inevitable they’d attack the Order of Melchizedek the Future-Anointed. Everybody thinks that we have some special advantage, some technology that Pope Sixtus VI is going to give us when he will found our order. Maybe we do and only the Abbot knows it; I don’t know. But whatever our advantage, it’s something a lot of people are willing to kill for. I pass by Brother Christopher by the last set of pews, and Brother Peter a few feet before the base of the stairs, both of whom are very definitely dead. Neither has a Cloak. The temptation, even now, must have been too great for them. I’ll say a prayer for their souls when I have time.
I make it to the organ, and after a moment’s fumbling with one arm open the maintenance door in the back. The attackers shouldn’t know about this little back chamber, and the heavy steel pipes should keep the bullets at bay until they find it. In the back, I find another Anastasia, crying at the loud noises, and breathe a short sigh of relief. The most dangerous part of the plan had worked. Both infants look at each other, and perhaps I see confusion on their little faces.
Almost exactly on cue, a small, shining window, too small for a man to fit through, opens directly in front of me. “Brother”, I hear a man’s voice say in Latin, “please, give me your Cloak.”
“Here it is”, I say, handing him the first Anastasia, bundled up tightly in my Cloak. He looks at me in horror for one second, thinking that I’ve broken my vow of continuity and, worse, used it to create a whole person. I show him the second Anastasia, the one already in the back room, and suddenly he understands. “The gunman at the door was only the first”, I tell him. “There are at least eight more of them moving through the living quarters. Take this infant to the room behind the organ. She’ll be safe there for a few minutes until you can return. Then, run to the nursery. You’ll have just enough time to save the Anastasia there. Bring her here too.”
I’d memorized each word and the intonation of each syllable of that little speech the first time around. But when I said it, I wasn’t just reciting it, like an actor would recite words for a play - I really was pleading. He takes the bundle from my arm, and the window closes in front, leaving the room pitch black again, with just me and one little girl.
As it closes, I say a brief prayer of thanksgiving, still in awe that I’ve been able to live this far. And then, I wait. Thirty seconds later, a window opens up in front of me. The other side is outside at Pine Creek Road, to a point a mile and a half from the Abbey, and it’s dark, so the window must be at least two hours into the future, after sunset. I see a small wound on his hand, and avert my eyes lest I see anything else - but in the glimpse I saw, his Cloak is still intact. And I can hear another Anastasia crying, muffled by the window. That’s more important.
In Latin, I say “Brother, please give me your Cloak”.
Without a word, he gives it to me.
It’s three hours later. The sun has set. Though I can’t tell what branch, law enforcement has established a perimeter around the Abbey and has moved in, and as I watched from a set of thick bushes on the hill facing the Abbey, I saw several Brothers and the Abbott being quickly escorted from one building to another, wearing Cloaks from their future selves. I hoped there were more survivors, but I didn’t stay to look. Those who were able to give back their Cloaks while in mortal peril likely survived. Those who weren’t, likely didn’t.
The gunshots stopped about five minutes before the law arrived, which is why I’m still running away, a mile and a half from the Abbey, and not back. If their perimeter didn’t catch me before I made it out, then they likely didn’t catch all of the gunmen. And as if to confirm my suspicion, I hear movement on the road behind me, and I start running forward towards the start of the forests. A bullet flies by and just barely grazes my hand. My guess is that the attackers must not have found what they were looking for in the monastery, and are now trying to capture one of my Order alive. I guess this because the gunshot noise was an awful lot closer than I’d thought - he probably could have hit my head if he were aiming at me. A warning shot, perhaps? Either way, I won’t be hit mortally while I wear this Cloak. For a moment longer, I keep sprinting.
“GIVE ME YOUR TIME MACHINE!” he shouts.
Open hearing the word “give”, I freeze in my tracks, remembering the words of my vow, and I get a sudden sinking feeling. I don’t know how I came to the right conclusion - it was too dark to see all that much - but some subtle recollection from memory made me realize that this was the moment. Without turning around and without showing him the bundle in my arms, I kneel on the road, put down Anastasia, take off my Cloak, and say “Let me show you.”
And as I hear footsteps close to a few feet behind me, a shining window opens up to one side, and I hear my own voice. “Frater, peto da me Pallium tuum.”
My would-be attacker is stunned, and stares without saying a word as I take off my Cloak and hand it to him, still keeping Anastasia out of sight. For a moment, I thought he was so entranced or bewildered at actually seeing a Paradox Object both be created and slip from his grasp that he wouldn’t shoot. Then, she let out a single sob. It was soft, but my past self heard it. I remember. And if he heard it, so did my attacker. It breaks the spell, and as the window closes he walks in front of me and points the gun to the ground, directly in front of me.
“Give me your time machine”, he repeats, slowly. “Show me how you did that.”
“You saw just now what I did.”, I respond, desperately trying to think of a response which would cause him to point the gun at me and not at her. “You don’t need technology to do it. You can do it by yourself.”
The gun doesn’t waver. “How?”
“You’re looking for a time machine, and you’re looking for Paradox Objects. But the two are the same. One ensures the other. If you were given a time machine by your older self, you could go back and give it to your younger self in turn.”
The gun still doesn’t waver, but he’s listening. Evidently, he’s been briefed on the possibility that the power is mental and not physical.
“But if your time machine once bridged the gap between two places and times, it doesn’t need to do so again. If your time machine activated in the past, it doesn’t need to activate in the future, and if it activated in the future, it doesn’t need to have activated in the past. But that means that once a window exists - it doesn’t need a time machine at all. Any more than our Cloaks need thread and sewing needles to be made. The hard part isn’t technology. Time travel is taking from the future. The hard part is giving it back.”
And breathing in, I recite my vow. “Qui petit a me, dabo ei, et volenti mutuari a me, ne avertaribo. I will give to him that asketh of me, and from him who would borrow from me I will not turn away.”
That does the trick. I don’t know what specifically caused his anger - whether he thought I was lying to him, or whether the truth wasn’t what he wanted to hear - but he clearly decided that I wasn’t going to give him information he could use, and that if I was lying or duped, he could at least search my corpse. Without another word, he aims the gun at my head and fires.
It takes a moment for me to realize that I’m still alive. There is a window directly in front of my head, perhaps four feet from the ground, and through it all I can see on this side is a blank wall. I dive for the attacker’s legs, and he falls to the ground. I’ve never been in a fist fight in my life, and after a moment he recovers and kicks me away. In another moment, he climbs to his feet. But a moment was all I needed, and I throw Anastasia through the window into the future, hoping that whoever is there is fast enough to catch her. I see the window close, and only then do I realize that there is a Cloak on the ground. With a large bloodstain and a bullet hole in it.
I pick it up and wrap it around me, making no sudden moves. The blood is still wet and only seconds old, but the hole isn’t frayed or worn at all - it’s a perfectly circular hole actually sewn into the fabric. The bullet isn’t going to tear the Cloak, I realize - the bullet will pass through the hole already there. And that’s…well, ‘comforting’ isn’t the right word, but that’s at least interesting. The gunman looks at me, somewhere between astonished and enraged that a miracle just extended my life, and points his gun as if to shoot me again. He doesn’t. I think he realizes that there’s no point. I’m dead already.
Three hours later, I’m in an interrogation room in the police station. I’d had enough time to wash the blood from the Cloak in the stream before walking back to the Abbey, and I was intercepted a half mile away at what I assume to be the perimeter of the crime scene. I’ve told the police my story three times over, and though they believe the time travel part, they keep coming back to Anastasia. Where is the child? Who is the child? Why does our Order even have a nursery? The answer is probably simpler than they’d like to hear. A child was left on our doorstep, years ago, with a note saying that he was born in the future and has no present family, and asking us to care for him. I doubted the story, and so did most of the others, but we did take care of him long enough to find an actual family willing to adopt him. Though we didn’t advertise this, word of it must have spread in some circles, because a different infant, a few months later, was left on our doorstep, with a very similar note. And so we built a small nursery to take care of these infants for short periods after they arrive. Even if their given dates of birth are false, the statement that they need a good home is most likely true.
And if they really were born in the future, or somehow have some causality link to our Order (as some of the notes imply), then we ensure our own existence by doing so. ‘Carrot and stick’, I think it’s called.
The police say they’ll let me out once they ask me a few more questions, but they were kind enough to let Father Lemaître in to give me Extreme Unction. And the blank wall in front of me looks more familiar the longer I look at it.
Qui petit a me, dabo ei. My older self gave me his life. It’s almost time for me to give it back.