Dave Bennett

It was on TV, a marathon of the entire trilogy on cable, so we were watching it. He said he didn't feel like talking much, and mostly sat there with his bottle of gin close at hand, pouring himself a stiffer gin and tonic at every commercial break. His eyelids were falling faster than the sun. I wasn't drunk, or drinking, or even providing moral support, but it felt like my presence was still necessary, as vital as the drink in his hand and the air in his lungs. One kept him dead, the other alive. He was quiet for the entirety of Part One, but halfway through Part Two (and drink five) he turned his head away from the screen, out the window, then towards me.

"I got a question," he said. "Let's say a guy with a time machine comes up to you and says he needs to save your life."

"Marty's saving his son, not himself," I said, "and it's not life or death."

"Everything is life and death," he said. "So you go into the future, and somehow you save your own life. This creates a paradox, a ripple in the space-time continuum, if you will. The guy with the time machine knew about your death, therefore you died in the original future. Future One, let's call it. He then grabs you in the past and takes you to the future, and you succeed, remaining alive and well in Future Two. Congratulations."

He reached for a cigarette from the open pack on the counter but didn't light it. Instead, he perched it in the corner of his mouth and let it bounce off his lower lip as he continued. Every few seconds his eyes darted to his suit, still hanging in the dry cleaner bag, waiting to be used for the third time in just as many years. He hated putting the suit on because of what it represented. For him, a suit was only for funerals or weddings, neither of which he particularly enjoyed attending.

So he was getting drunk to stop thinking about his suit. Navigating the cigarette out of the way with his tongue, he downed the sixth drink in two gulps and reached for the bottle again, now half-empty (and definitely not half-full).

"However, this effectively tampers with the truth. If the future you is still alive, it means that the guy with the time machine never found out about your death, which means he never came back to get you, which means you never went to the future in the first place. Basically, the moment you save your life, you never did it. Your future self is still alive in Future Two, but in Future One..."

The cigarette fell onto his lap. He stared down at it intently, but his gaze wasn't focused, drunkenly contemplating it like cavemen must have looked at the night sky. I reached for the lighter in my pocket, but he swatted the cigarette away and broke it in half, scattering tobacco across the floor.

"But in Future One, where you never went into the future, you are still dead."

Every variation on the theme I tested ended up in the same logic problem loop. It didn't matter if it was someone else that died, if the time machine guy actually witnessed your death instead of just being aware of it, if it wasn't a death but an injury, or if you built the time machine yourself. To him, it all boiled down to the paradox. Being alive and dead in alternate yet equally valid realities.

He closed his eyes after eleven drinks during a commercial break halfway through Part Three.

"All I'm trying to say," he said, "is that we might be saving our future selves every single day of our lives, and never know it. Or even better, that someone else might be doing it for us." And he fell asleep before Marty got home, kissed Jennifer, and smashed the fucking time machine into a million tiny pieces.

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