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art by Jonathan Westbrook

Older, Wiser, Time Traveler

M. Bennardo's work has appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction and Strange Horizons, among other markets. He earned his spurs on matters intertemporal by contributing to The Time Traveler's Pocket Guide published by The Time Travel Bureau. He also co-edits the bestselling Machine of Death anthology series--look for the second volume in 2012! He lives in Cleveland, Ohio, but people anywhere can find him online at www.mbennardo.com.
First off, step one--commit a crime of passion.
You shouldn't plan this, obviously. In fact, you can't plan this. The defining characteristic of a crime of passion is precisely that it's unplanned. Oh sure, there are tendencies. There are indications. A crime of passion doesn't have to be a surprise--it just has to be unplanned.
--Could you perhaps give us an example?
All right. Say you come home from dinner--a nice dinner out with your sister. You come home to your high-rise apartment and you find your sister's husband, your brother-in-law--you find him already there. He's ransacking your place. You never liked him. You never liked the guy, never thought he was good enough for your sister, but now he's ransacking your place.
You don't know what he's doing, but he's probably looking for money or something to hock. Maybe he thinks you have drugs hidden somewhere. But you don't ask. You don't care. This is it--this is the last thing. So you grab him by the throat, you push him out the living room door onto the balcony, and with one final cathartic explosion you send him sailing over the railing.
That's a crime of passion.
Second, you need to have a time machine.
It doesn't need to be anything fancy--one of those ones from the kits in the back of Popular Mechanics will do fine. But the point is that you need one. If you don't have one, then forget about it. There's nothing you can do.
That's why it's a good idea just to keep one around. Just around--especially if you have a bad temper. Just keep one around. Mine's in the hall closet.
--Heh. Mine too.
Third, you need to get rid of the witnesses.
This is one of the bad ones. You don't want to do this, so try to commit your crimes of passion in private. Or I guess, the better way to say that is to try and keep a lid on your temper in public. Try to do that everywhere, of course, but especially when more than one person is around.
--Can't you just make the witnesses promise not to tell?
You could, but then you have to believe they'll never tell. Never, ever. Remember: your timeline doesn't disappear when you go back. It stays there. The witness stays there. And you're gone. If you don't come back (and you're not coming back) then eventually one day they're going to tell somebody. And if "somebody" turns out to be "the cops", then they'll come get you. Wherever you are, even in a different timeline, they'll come get you.
--But take the example you gave--
Look, I already said this is one of the bad ones.
--But what if you come back from dinner and your sister is with you--
I already said--
--And what if she's the witness?
Look, you just have to do it, but nothing says you have to talk about it later.
Fourth, you go back in time.
You go back before you did what you did. You go back not too far, but just far enough. You know what I mean--you want to look the same. The same hair length, the same tan, the same clothes if you can manage it. You make everything as much the same as possible.
You want to be able to remember as much as possible too. You don't want to go back in time and blunder around like you have short-term amnesia. You want to know what's going on--that day, that hour, that minute. You want to be able to just step into life and have it flow naturally. Go back a day, or maybe two. Not much more than that.
--Maybe earlier the same day?
Sure, could be. But the other thing is you have to have a chance to get yourself alone. Alone, with nobody listening and no interruptions.
--Like maybe here, in the shower?
Yeah, the shower is good. As long as you can get rid of...
--Get rid of what?
Never mind.
--This is another one of the bad ones, isn't it?
Not this one. The next one.
Fifth...
--You don't look so good.
Fifth...
--You can't even say it. I don't know how you're going to do it if you can't even say it.
I told you before, you don't have to talk about it.
--Humor me. Talk me through it.
Fifth, you have to get rid of yourself. Get rid of him, and just take over.
--You look really bad.
You heard me, right?
--You didn't even bring a weapon. I'm wondering if you have any kind of plan. And what will you do with the body?
There are things you can do.
--Humor me again.
Nobody's going to report you missing. You're not missing, because you took over your own life. So nobody's going to report anything. Nobody is going to look for you. You just bury it someplace where it won't be dug up--not for a long, long time anyway.
--Any more steps after that?
Just one. You live with yourself.
--You think you can do that?
If I can do all the rest, I can do that.
--Well, you chickened out on step five.
I'm just working up my nerve. I'm getting there. Just give me a minute, is all.
--I got a better idea.
I don't care.
--No, listen. You came back in time to stop me from doing something you regretted. Much as we hate that no good brother-in-law of ours, you didn't really want to throw him off the balcony. So you came back in time to take my place--the older, wiser you, the you who knows better than me.
Yeah.
--Well, now I know. You did enough by telling me.
But--
--But nothing. You've already killed two people. Now you want to kill one more. And you think you can live with yourself after that?
I told you already--
--I think I got a better shot at it. Thanks for coming back and warning me, but I think I can take it from here. After all--
What?
--I only need to kill one.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, April 9th, 2012


This story started with the title, which came to me out of nowhere about six years ago. As is often the case when that happens, it took three or four complete rewrites for me to finally figure out how to tell it in a compelling way. I suppose technically you could call this story "years in the making", but it was more like "several days in the making, separated by years in between".

- M. Bennardo

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