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Ad Nauseam

Josh Warriner is an author, university student, and entrepreneur living in Toronto, Canada. From a young age, Josh has been shaped by science fiction, captivated with the ideas of worlds beyond our own and science beyond our understanding. Growing up in a small town in northeastern Ontario, Canada, Josh spent much of his early life nestled away, consuming the media set in these fantastic worlds. Since then, he has tried to evoke the same magic of the genre that first inspired him through stories, poetry, and other written work. By day, Josh is a social media manager, as well as an artist manager with his self-built artist management company, Populus Music. Find everything he is up to at linktr.ee/joshwarriner.

Was this the fourth, or the fifth time around? It didn't matter; Rhea had lost track. She was watching Jin who, for the fourth--or fifth time now, was attempting to fix the fault in the machine before they were sent back to start all over again. This time, they had taken the approach of slamming the side of the machine with a socket wrench, which Rhea was certain would do them no good.
Jin swore as they threw the wrench to the ground. Pausing for a moment, they looked down at the watch placed on the table against the nearest wall.
"Fifteen seconds left."
With their remaining energy, Jin delivered a swift kick to the side of the machine which whirred incessantly on the ground.
The glow and hum of the machine faltered for a moment, but as the seconds ticked away, it all came to a halt, and began anew.
The feeling was unpleasant, even for the sixth time. Rhea felt her stomach, and various other organs twist into knots as her material form was sent back exactly eleven minutes into the past once again. Though the feeling was over in an instant, it left a lingering throbbing in the head as her eyes readjusted as though just exposed to an intense light.
This had all begun a little over an hour ago for them, as far as she could tell, but had begun only seconds ago according to the clock ticking away on the table.
The pair had obtained one of the devices from a friend of theirs, who had amassed a small collection of them to distribute away from prying eyes.
Their goal was nothing particularly advantageous. Jin and Rhea had grown bored with the cards they had been dealt, and wanted to explore a time far before anything they had grown accustomed to.
To that end, the pair found themselves stuck in this loop in period garments circa three hundred years ago, Rhea with her best recreation of a poodle skirt, and Jin dressed like a rebel without a cause, their hair cropped and slicked back, with a classic style leather jacket.
As with the last five loops, her eyes adjusted and she saw Jin, sitting on the floor with their back against the wall.
"It's no use," they conceded, with total defeat hanging in their tone.
Rhea scoffed, "there's no way. There has to be a way to stop this thing--"
Jin interrupted, "this is exactly why they're illegal, Rhea. You get people like us who think it's a good idea to try it out and get ourselves stuck in a closed loop."
"Well Dom really should've given us a better warning. He made it fairly clear that it was a plug-it-in-and-go situation."
"Was the universal ban thing not warning enough for you?"
Rhea conceded that it was a fairly stern warning, and realized that they had forgotten to start the stopwatch.
"How long has it been?" She asked.
"At least three minutes, less than five. We probably have about six minutes to go." Jin replied.
"Well that's plenty of time to think of something!"
"Oh we'll have plenty of time to think of things, I'm sure." Jin chuckled.
A thought occurred to Rhea, "we could call for help."
Jin looked baffled.
"Call for help? For the crime we're committing?"
"I'd rather get in trouble than live the rest of my life in an eleven-minute loop. Maybe we can call Dom?"
Jin laughed, "you think Dom knows anything about these things? He definitely just buys them off some moon-dweller smuggler friend."
Rhea sighed, "you might be right."
She paced the room uncomfortably. It was a cramped space they had chosen; an abandoned storage facility a couple kilometers outside of Montreal. Inside they had found an office space, which they had cleared out and prepared over the course of a couple weeks for use in their travels.
As was necessary for the device they were using, they had done their research to ensure that the building had been there three hundred years ago. Since then it had been forgotten, part of a small town that had been lost to time and fallen into disrepair in their age of megacities and excess consolidation.
She gave into the only idea that had been discussed and called Dom. The call quickly clicked into connection.
Rhea wasted no time, "Dom what the hell are we supposed to do, we've looped around with this thing seven times now."
"Six!" Jin chimed in from the floor.
Dom remained silent for a moment.
"You got it to work?"
"What--" Rhea stammered, "do you mean I got it to work?"
An awkward silence settled in again before Dom spoke.
"I was told that it didn't work at all. I'm sorry, Rhea, I didn't think you guys would use it! I figured Jin would talk you out of it."
Rhea exploded.
"Dominic if I ever get out of this loop I am going to bring this busted machine and I'm going to shove it right--"
The line was interrupted abruptly by an incoming incoming call that accepted itself.
"Rhea Norton?"
She remained silent, ushering Jin over to listen in. They both stood awkwardly as the voice reverberated in the nearly empty room.
Rhea let out a quiet affirmation.
"My name is Ben Sutcliffe." The man on the phone paused and seemed to be tapping quietly on a keypad.
"Now, I understand that you're in possession of a trans-dimensional engine that's in need of resetting. We're only here to help. The process here will be fairly simple. So firstly we're gonna start with--"
Rhea was filled with a familiar burning sensation, and a familiar pounding of the skull as the loop had begun anew.
She swore.
Jin laid down aimlessly in the middle of the floor.
"Wait!" they exclaimed. "There's a button right here that says Go."
"Are you kidding me?!" Rhea shouted.
Jin chuckled, "heh, yeah. There's nothing down here that isn't up there, girl."
The phone rang again and Rhea scrambled to pick it up. Same voice, same introduction.
"The process here will be fairly simple. So firstly we're gonna start with a quick orientation of the engine. Can you describe it to me, please?"
Rhea provided as accurate of a description she could give, keeping brief to allow enough time to finish the conversation, with about six minutes left in the loop. A small data screen blinked on the top end of the machine. A red backlit "Error. Error. Error."
The repetition seemed unnecessary.
"Okay," the agent said through the phone.
"You should be able to put the machine into a reset, and it should, hopefully, shut down."
Jin interjected, "I'm gonna be honest Ben, I'm not loving the confidence levels!"
"Sorry, I didn't quite catch that," Ben replied.
Jin gave no reply except for a dismissive groan.
Rhea got to work and followed Ben's instructions.
Her roommate seemed to have simply accepted their fate, resorting to aimlessly wandering the small office space. Though if Rhea was being honest, that's what her roommate spent most of their time doing on a good day.
The machine was now flipped onto its side, and Rhea was using her fingernail as a makeshift screwdriver.
The bottom panel fell open.
"Was that supposed to happen Ben?"
"Well I don't know what happened, Rhea, but if the bottom panel fell open, then yes that was supposed to happen."
"Thank the stars." Rhea remarked.
"All right, now we've reached the final step of the reset process," Ben began. "See that set of three red buttons? You're gonna want to push the middle one twice, then the one on the right three times, and the left one once. Finally, please press down on the middle button for four seconds."
"Are you serious, Ben?"
"I'm sorry, they really didn't want people to accidentally reset these things, given their original purpose. They typically aren't meant to be in these sorts of situations in the first place, you know."
"Yeah, we're committing a crime. We know, Ben," Jin remarked.
Rhea followed the instructions. As she followed through, she spoke.
"Thank you for your help, Ben. Say, what agency are you with anyway?"
"Happy to help you guys. I'm with the Par--"
A violent flash hit Rhea's brain like a freighter ship. A blinding blur of trans-dimensional travel hit her mind once again and bent it in a way that was most unpleasant. She felt her mind go blank, as though lost in the wash of the blinding wave of travel. The feeling was sickening, as though her mind was being inverted.
She blinked, and her eyes adjusted. She was met with a small, dusty office space. She wondered to herself:
Was this the fourth, or the fifth time around?
The End
This story was first published on Friday, June 24th, 2022


Author Comments

This particular story came to fruition as part of a series of inter-connected stories I have been working on about the effects of a cataclysmic event that transpires after humanity develops the ability to travel through time. Though I haven't written a story about that incident itself, I love to explore the microcosms of events like that. Small-scale science fiction stories have always held a special place in my heart, exploring what these big ideas mean to individual people, and how their stories are impacted by things wildly beyond them.

- Josh Warriner
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