Paul found himself in a featureless white room. It was similar to the Present, except that it didn’t have any pillars, and it was only about ten feet across.
“Is this the future?”
“No, no. But I learned from the mistake I made with the Past, and I think I have an easier way to display the Future. But it will take quite a lot of time at least from my perspective, and I didn’t want to leave you in the Past, no telling what trouble you might get into there. So I put you in this holding room for now.”
“Is the Future much different than the past?”
“Oh yes, it’s much bigger for one.”
“Bigger than the past? But the past is infinite, how could anything be bigger?”
“Well you see, it’s because there’s only one past, but there are so many futures. You’ll see, just wait there.”
The Lord of Time disappeared.
Paul couldn’t change the past, but there were many futures. He just had to pick the right one. He could fix it. Everything would be better.
The Lord of Time reappeared. “Come, this way.”
Paul turned around, there was a door there now, the dark wood standing out against all the white. Through the door was the Present, or what looked like it. Big white room. Lots of pillars.
“I don’t understand. We’re back in the Present?”
“Mistakes, learning, remember? I thought this would be easier for you to understand. And I narrowed down the future for you. This is just your future. Of course, there’s still infinite of it, anything can happen, pretty much, although not all of it is likely.”
Paul looked more closely at the pillars. Each of them was showing the same image, in his left hand a photo of Lydia, in his right hand a gun. Right. Back there.
“How do these work?”
“Well you can jump into any one you like, and then you will be able to control the playback using your mind.”
Paul walked up to the nearest one.
Paul found himself sucked into the image. He was staring at himself.
His future self started crying. A pathetic, whining, totally consumed crying. He saw himself raise the pistol to his mouth and pull the trigger. The scene froze with the back of his head bubbling out. Paul dry-heaved so hard he was sure his stomach would turn itself inside out. He wasn’t sure how he hadn’t actually thrown up. Maybe it wasn’t possible here.
“I did try to warn you. Still, maybe it’s for the best. There are lessons to be learned everywhere if you just know how to look.”
When Paul regained control of his body, he said “Leave” and found himself back in the pillar room.
“I think the usefulness of seeing that particular scenario play out has been used up, so I’ll just go ahead and mark all of those red for you. You can still go to those if you want, but I thought a warning might be good.”
A whole corner of pillars turned red. They stretched back as far as Paul could see.
“Are there infinite futures where I kill myself?”
“Oh yes. But look on the bright side, there are infinite futures where you don’t kill yourself as well. I think that’s worth mentioning. Also, you don’t need to say anything out loud. Thinking it is enough.”
If all of the suicide pillars were next to each other, that meant there was a pattern. Paul just had to find it, and then he could have his perfect future.
Paul jumped into another future and fast-forwarded, he knew what he was looking for. This one ended prematurely, too. Dead in a bathtub with a needle in his arm. Apparently it didn’t count as suicide. Maybe he was just trying to party. Still. Not that way.
Back in the pillar room, Paul went the other way. No really early death in that one. No Lydia, either. He started skipping pillars, trying to get closer. He lost track of how many futures he saw before he finally found her. Her beautiful face. Angry though. She never came back. But it was progress.
He grew more desperate, skipping dozens of pillars at a time, until he finally found it: their wedding. The thing he had dreamed about. She looked amazing in a long white gown. He didn’t know how they could afford it. He didn’t care. He went forward more. They had a baby. A little boy. He saw himself lay the baby in a white crib in a room painted baby blue. The baby was laughing and kicking its feet.
“This one. I want this one.”
“That’s not how this works Paul.”
“But that’s what this was all for. I saw the present, I saw the past, I choose the future. I choose this one. I choose this future. That’s what you said, that I would get to pick a new future. Those were your words.”
“That’s not what I meant. You choose your future everyday. We all do. Moment by moment we make choices, and together we build the future. All of us. Together. Would you make our choices for us, so that you can have the future you want? Would you make Lydia choose? Would you make her a slave to–?”
“Yes! Anything! I would do anything! Make them slaves! Make them anything! As long as I get Lydia”
Paul’s words hung in the air for a moment.
“I think it’s time you went back.”
“Why? Why did you bring me here? Why did you do this to me? Were you just trying to torture me?
“I intervened because I thought you were going to do something very foolish, and I thought I could help. But I’m not sure that I have. I’m sorry Paul. Do remember that you only have the one life, and you have to live it all on your own. I won’t be coming back, no matter how much you ask. And I can’t change the past, or the future, at least not directly. It’s all on you. So please do at least try. I’d hate to think that I wasted so much time.”
“How am I supposed to live, knowing this was a possibility?”
“The same way everyone does. There’s always a better future, everyone has regrets. You work to get the one you want, or just the best one available.”
Paul found himself back in his apartment. In his left hand he held a photograph. In his right hand he held a gun.