Is it possible for two people to fall in love in the wrong direction?
Shortly before Christopher died, I met him for the second time. It was the first day of the fall semester for the Tuesday-Thursday section of my Intro to Quantum Physiology i course 1, Room 3-270 in Building 3 at MIT. I had been spending my nights sleeping in the hard plastic chairs at the VNA Care Network & Hospice out near Harvard Square ii, waiting and watching as the man I loved succumbed to a tumor I had caused, and I was so utterly exhausted by the time the semester had started that it had never occurred to me that this would be the Fall when it first started. If I had tenure, maybe I would have taken a sabbatical, but unfortunately an Assistant Professor is not afforded such luxuries. I hadn't even had time to look at the class roster yet — of course, it being a lecture with one-hundred nineteen students, there were far too many names for me to recognize anyway, and some of them would certainly drop the course over the next two weeks.
But as I stood there in front of the class, fighting sleep and struggling to explain the syllabus to a sea of disinterested students, I noticed him there in the corner of my eye, sitting in the third row of the classroom. He looked so young and able-bodied, more like the boy that I'd first met than the sickly, dying man I'd come to love. I watched him yawn and stretch his slender arms up towards the sky, still as pale and toned as I remembered them. He pulled that same old, unwashed Red Sox hat iii back onto his forehead as he shifted his posture in the cramped fixed-tablet armchair, revealing a mismatched pair of penetrating eyes — one greyish-green, the other brown iv. I had never seen his eyes like that before, and although I could barely make them out from where I stood, the difference was bright enough to see, if one was looking for it. I was immediately struck by the beautiful earthiness of such a distinct imperfection, and I understood then why he was so distraught at losing them 2. It wasn't until that moment when I saw into those mismatched eyes that I finally started piecing it together. And there he sat in front of me again, younger than I'd ever known him to be and fully unaware of the life that we had had, and were having, and were going to have, together. A life that I'd experienced and was experiencing. A life that I was on the brink of losing once again, as I would be forced to mourn the loss of the same man twice 3.
I fumbled through the rest of the syllabus, trying to keep my mind off the fact that I had just locked my own fate into place. Rather than jump right into teaching — and make an even worse impression on the students as the awkward, unprepared academic that I was — I let the class leave early. Chris was part of the group that ran out of the room before I had the chance to change my mind. I was relieved to see him go, as I was not prepared to interact with him, not yet. But still, I was overcome with pangs of sadness as I watched him walk away from me so swiftly, as if I were a perfect stranger. I supposed, to him, I was.
My Christopher had told me years ago that this was how it started, though he never could remember precisely when it happened. We were never sure if it was the brain tumor that had damaged his memory, or if there was some other temporal anomaly to blame. But I had been so focused on his death that I forgot about the life that he had yet to live.
I was twenty-nine years old and a graduate student at MIT when I invented the Nonlinear Molecular Teleportation Matrix v, combining established theories of quantum teleportation vi and the Higgs singlet vii. That was eleven years ago, as of this writing, and until now Christopher Fabula was the only person I had ever told about my accomplishment. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, as he is the only person to have used the machine, to have given his life to prove it worked, and lived to die again [see 3]. This is why I did not come forward with my discovery, why I chose instead to let my thesis work languish, why I never did the work to complete my Ph.D. Why I sabotaged my own calculations to publicly disprove the theory I'd been working on for years. The technology is too dangerous, too immoral, and it has taken me these past eleven years to fully understand to what degree. In that time, I have actively worked in opposition to my own prosperity, trying to disprove the effectiveness of the machine that I created. And in doing so, I regrettably ensured its success.
The first time that I met Christopher Fabula was 7 May 2014 4 during my final year of graduate studies, on the evening of the annual MIT Time Travel Convention viii5. The party was held at an old campus warehouse building ix in Cambridgeport, where I had also been working on my Nonlinear Molecular Teleportation Matrix, as it provided ample space for such an enormous and complicated machine. I was on the planning committee for the event, and despite the fact that I had never actually tested the machine at the point, I had initially hoped to present my research that evening in front of the esteemed masses that gathered every year. Unfortunately, I was denied this opportunity x6.
As part of the committee, I was required to stay after the party to facilitate cleanup. We folded up chairs and tables and linens and lightly swept the floor and when we were done the rest of my colleagues proceeded to the nearest bar to celebrate the evening. I told the group that I would catch up with them after one more sweep of the building, but the truth is that I was too ashamed to go with them, as I was still somewhat drunk. When I was sure that I was alone in the building, I made my way to where the Nonlinear Molecular Teleportation Matrix was installed, balled up my fists and slammed them on the door as I screamed out loud to vent my own frustrations.
The last thing that I expected to hear was a man's voice speaking on the other side of the door. "Hello? Is anyone there?" he said. "Please…open the door…I need water or…something…" I panicked, unsure of how to respond. I considered the possibilities, that it was a party guest who had drunkenly found his way into the room and then passed out, that it was a thief or a killer and that I would be his victim. I had already embarrassed myself once that evening, and the thought that someone may have witnessed my tantrum only made it worse.
These thoughts and others flew through my mind in a moment's time and were quickly interrupted by a pounding on the wall. "Hello? Anyone?" the man said. "Please. I'm stuck. I don't even know when I got here."
I tried the door handle myself. It was locked, which confirmed that he was stuck inside. Because the machine only opened from the outside, and I was the only person who had the key. "Who are you?" I asked. "How did you get in there?"
"Suzy? Is that you? Am I here? It's me, it's Chris. Chris Fabula," he said.
"I don't know who either of those people are," I said. "Now tell me how you got in there, before I call the cops."
"I can tell by your voice, it's you. I know it's you, Suze. It has to be. Please, just open the door and I'll explain."
At no point did it occur to me that the man on the other side of the door might actually be from the future. But he knew my name, which was both comforting and terrifying and spun my still-drunk brain past the point of rational thinking. Although I suppose the truth of the situation was far from rational
"Did Eric Lochlear put you up to this?" I asked as I opened the door.
As soon as I turned the handle, Christopher Fabula fell out into the hallway, his slender, naked body covered in sweat. He was tall and thin with sandy hair and I admired his impeccable muscle tone. Then he vomited on the floor. He rolled onto his back and appeared to find comfort in the cold concrete as he gasped for breathe. I just stared into his shit-brown eyes as he laid there sprawled out on the ground 7.
It took another minute for his breathing to steady, and when it did he pushed himself up off the floor. He stood with arms akimbo and said, "You know, Suze, I loved you anyway, but I never knew you looked this good when you were younger." Then he looked down and finally noticed his own nakedness. I grabbed a folded linen for him off a nearby folding table 8 and gave it to him to cover himself. I did it more for my own sake than his.
"Thanks, but you're a little young," I said. "Now are you going to tell me what the hell is going on?"
"My name is Chris Fabula," he said, as he wrapped the table cover around his waist. "And you and me, we're in love. Or will be in love. Or still. Are. Maybe 9. And so I wanted to prove to you that your machine would work. Which it did."
"So you're from the future?" I asked. "Then tell me, in the future, does Eric Lochlear still pay his underclassmen to pull his little pranks for him?"
"It's not a prank, Suze. It's real. This — what we have — this is real. That's what I wanted to show you. Look, how's this: Your name is Susette Ng. You were born on December 28, 1984 and you're much more bitter about your birthday's proximity to Christmas than anyone else I've ever met. You grew up outside of Chicago. Your parents met when they were both working at Northwestern. Your dad was born in Belgium and your mom — "
"There are plenty of ways you could have found out any of those things…"
"You broke your left wrist playing soccer when you were eight years old and you still have scars from the surgery and there's a small mole on the underside of your left breast that you call your third nipple."
As uncomfortable as it was to hear a stranger say such things, he wasn't wrong. I crossed my arms as if to somehow hide my breasts and said, "That's a little personal. And a little awkward."
"I know. But I'm right, aren't I? How else could I know those things? I know every part of you, everything about — "
And then he collapsed, passed out cold on the floor. It was a brief, momentary blackout 10. I kneeled down beside him to check his pulse, then placed my face near his to check his breathing. His eyes shot open a moment later, before I even had a chance to do anything. He placed a hand on my cheek and said, "I knew I'd make it back for you," then kissed me like he knew every contour of my lips. With all my failures that night during the time travel convention, I was feeling particularly vulnerable and in need of some affection. But the truth is that I had always been the kind of girl who fell for anyone who showed the slightest interest in her. And what affection would be greater than someone from the future who had already been in love with you?
I had sex with Christopher for the first time that night
My inebriation faded as the night went on, and a brand new buzz started pulsing through my veins. Soon enough, the sun began to rise, its blinding orange light shining off the Charles River through the open windows of the room, glinting off the shiny surface of the machine. I knew we had to leave before the morning janitors arrived, so I invited him back to my apartment.
"I thought you'd never ask," he said with a smile. He stood up, letting the linens fall to the floor and revealing once again his slender, muscled figure with its awkward tan lines. He looked down for a moment and frowned. "I'm not sure where else I would've gone. Also I don't have any clothes because the um, I guess the machine kind of ate them? Or something? You should probably take a look at that."
Then his eyes went wide and he began to frantically pat his head. "My Sox cap [see iii]!” he said despondently. "I loved that thing! Aw, man."
He helped me to my feet and I gave him a kiss and said, "Don't you start spoiling all the future scores and series for the rest of us who haven't lived them yet."
He struck a heroic pose and said, "I am sorry, ma'am but I must return to the machine, so that I might travel through time and recover my lost Red Sox hat. I realize that I may have just undergone absolute molecular regeneration because of a woman, but you see, that hat is very important to me." We both laughed, and together we fashioned a toga out of those sweat-stained linens 13.
We caught a cab back to my small studio apartment outside of Porter Square, where we lived together until he entered hospice and I still live today 14.
From his perspective, my relationship with Chris began halfway through the fall semester of 2025. Before that, I did my best to avoid him. It was easy enough to limit contact with a student in a lecture class, and while the presence of his younger self in my Intro to Quantum Physiology course was certainly distracting, I had no interest in further complicating the situation 15.
I was sharing a small office with four other faculty members on the sixth floor of Building 32 xii at the far northeastern end of campus, a cramped sixteen-by-nine rectangle with horrid grey carpets and cheap plastic furniture with sleek, rounded edges that looked vaguely "futuristic." My officemates had all gone home for the evening, and I knew I had to leave if I was going to see Christopher at hospice. It was just after 7:30pm when Chris burst into my office, still wearing his sweaty soccer scrimmage gear. "Good, you're still here. Look, Professor 16, I know it's late but I really need to talk with you," he said, and tossed his midterm paper down on my desk, a harsh red D circled at the top beside the title: "Nonlinear Molecular Teleportation According To Ng."
I looked at the clock and said, "Office hours ended twenty-three minutes ago, and I have somewhere to be this evening," which was not at all true. But the last thing I wanted to do was to be trapped alone in a room with this student that I knew so intimately despite not knowing him at all, so I gathered up my work and placed my books and papers in my bag. "Perhaps if you'd arrived on time, we could have this conversation, but I guess you'll have to come back next week."
"Look, I'm sorry, I'm coming right from soccer practice. I didn't even have time to shower and — "
I stood up, pushed my chair into the desk, and said, "Then we can talk about it next week. Goodbye." As I stepped past him to grab my coat off the hangar on the wall, I caught a taste of his scent, still fresh from the soccer field. The memory washed over me of the first time we explored each others' bodies on the cold hard floor of the Nonlinear Molecular Teleportation Matrix, that unbridled passion full of groping claws and sweat, and I lost myself in thought.
"It's because you're a woman, isn't it?" he said, abruptly ending my sweet nostalgic trip. I turned and looked directly into his multi-colored eyes for the first time since the first day of the semester. "I mean, that's not —" he continued, stumbling over his words. "Because in the paper I said that you're a woman and that's why —"
"Yes, Chris, I am a women. I'm glad to see that you are so observant. College is supposed to be a very important time for a young man's sexual awakening after all," I said. "Unfortunately, 'Defining Feminism' is offered on Wednesday evenings with Professor Madison in the Humanities department, and this, meanwhile, is Intro to Quantum Physiology, and the information contained in your midterm paper — including the aforementioned observation regarding the inherent sexism of the scientific fields — is factually incorrect and I know this because I was there because you chose to write a paper about the professor who is teaching the class for which the paper was written, who is me." I paused for a moment and waited for his response, but he just swallowed and stared. I added, "I should clarify that the information regarding the inherent sexism of the scientific research fields was not in and of itself incorrect, but that its connection to the case cited within the paper was tenuous at best." I took a breath and I could taste his sweet musk as it filled my lungs. I began to put my coat on, to force myself to leave, as I was too afraid that the memories might overtake me.
He took another step towards me, blocking my way to the door. "Professor Ng, please. I can't fail this class," he said, pleading with his mismatched eyes.
"You're not failing," I said, trying to ignore the discomfort of hearing him refer me in such a formal manner. "I gave you a D."
"But even with a D they'll kick me off the soccer team and then I'll lose my scholarship and I'll have to go back to working on my dad's farm. Please, Professor. I need this."
I hesitated for a 17 before I responded. "Perhaps you should have thought about that before you wrote a 15-page paper with the express intentions of brown nosing your instructor," I said.
"That's…that's not why I wrote it," he said as he looked down at his feet. "I thought it was interesting — honestly, I did. Your work has posed the most practical, sensible theories of time travel that have ever been published. I genuinely cannot understand why this hasn't gained more traction, why your name isn't up there with Einstein and Newton and Hawking and all those guys. You realize this could change our entire established understanding of the physical world, right? Of the entire relationship between space and time. This is everything!"
"Yes, that's very flattering, Chris," I said. "But you still handed in the paper ten days late and plagiarized several parts directly from Wikipedia."
"Okay, first of all, I have a learning disability so I'm supposed to get an extra two weeks on projects, remember? I gave you a doctor's note at the start of the semester? And second, I didn't 'plagiarize' anything because I wrote the damn Wikipedia myself!" he said.
I was genuinely surprised at this, as my Christopher had never mentioned it to me. I was also unprepared to argue the semantics of creative commons plagiarism. "You did?" I asked.
"Yes! I read about your theory when I was in high school and I've been fascinated by it ever since. That's half the reason that I wanted to go here in the first place. I can't do physics because my brain has some trouble with math. Which is why I'm studying neuroscience instead. And you've figured out how marry those two fields, and in a way that actually makes sense!"
I looked at the clock on my wall and realized that I only had 20 minutes to make it hospice. Depending on the traffic, there was a chance that I wasn't going to make it at all. I grabbed my bag and tried to step around him towards the door. "I'm sorry, Chris, I really need to go —"
"Please, just give me a minute," he said as he reached out and touched my wrist with his hand. It was the first time I'd felt his touch in over three months, felt his skin against mine, felt him grasping for me like it was the most important thing in the world. But he immediately pulled away, as if he were afraid that he had crossed a line. And perhaps he did.
He tried nervously to cover for his inappropriate touching and said, "When I was looking through your research, I had an idea. Couldn't you theoretically use the body of a test subject as the battery itself? Each particle that you teleport back in time could be destroyed in the present and that nuclear process would easily create enough energy to send the next particle back and —"
But I had stopped listening. The touch of his skin, his scent in the room, it was all too overwhelming. I grabbed the back of his neck, pulled him towards me, and kissed him the way you do when you think you've lost someone and have one chance to win them back. Whatever he was thinking then, he didn't seem to mind. I slammed the door shut behind him and we made love on Professor Streeby's desk 18. I felt guilty that I never made it to hospice that night, that as my partner lay dying, I started an affair instead. But I kept telling myself that Christopher would have been okay with it.
Our affair continued for months unnoticed by peers on either side. We both agreed to stay coy when pressed for information by our friends and colleagues, and on the rare occasion that we enjoyed an evening out like a normal couple, we always made sure to go outside of the metropolitan area, for fear we would be caught. Not that there was anything explicitly shameful in our relationship — we were both consenting adults, after all — but romance between a teacher and a student is always frowned upon, and understandably so. Still, ours was a different situation 19.
During that time, I never told Chris 20 about what happened to us before. About what happened, was going to happen, to him. How could I? Still, he remained fixated on the Nonlinear Molecular Teleportation Matrix, and all the possibilities it presented. I was certainly flattered by his faith in me, by his unwavering belief in my scientific prowess, but those were compliments and conversations that I tried to avoid, for reasons he could never know. I cannot say if it was ignorance, hopefulness, or hubris that led me to believe that I could change any part of what had happened, of what would happen. But as the summer waned on, everything played out precisely as it had, just as it was going to, in spite — or perhaps, because — of everything I did to avoid it.
When I confessed to Christopher about my affair yesterday afternoon, I did not know that it would be the last time that I saw him that way. As hard as it was to see him in such pain — a reminder of my own mistakes — it was harder still knowing that another him existed, not three miles away and still healthy and spry. But when I looked down at his weary yellow body, I realized that I could never love my young and lively Chris as much as I loved that dying man before me 21.
"Christopher, I — I something to confess. I'm having an affair," I said. There was no more elegant way to put it.
At first he didn't respond. He had been in and out of consciousness all day, and I wasn't sure if he had even heard me — although perhaps it was unfair of me to spring the news him when he was in such a condition. "Christopher? Did you hear me?" I said.
He stared blankly for a moment and I worried that the news was too much, too painful. He mustered up the strength and said, "Who?" and when I looked into his shit-brown eyes I couldn't tell if it was the cancer or the heartbreak that made the question so difficult to ask.
"A student," I said nervously. "It's…it's you. It's Christopher Fabula. Well, he prefers 'Chris' but…"
Christopher several times then stopped and swallowed hard, forcing down the bile. He reached for the water near his bed to wash away the taste. Then he turned back to me. A smile slowly snuck across his face, his gaunt and sallow flesh stretching out to translucence on his cheek. "It was the eyes," he said softly. His voice was strained but there was color in his face and life behind his words. "I told you. The ladies couldn't help it. Those eyes were irresistible."
His skin was hot and waxy when I kissed him on the forehead but I didn't mind the taste. "You knew," I said.
"No," he said. "But I can't say I'm surprised. I remember when I was in college, I knew you had a boyfriend or something but…I never realized it was me." He coughed again and tried in vain to hide the blood that was spit up on his sleeve. "I think I should be mad but…I'm not sure I can. At least I'm getting laid, right?" He laughed once before his jubilation turned back into bloody hacking from his lungs.
That was all we said about it. Christopher didn't need to know anymore, nor did he want to.
I returned to campus later that afternoon to teach. He was dead before my evening class was over.
I lost the love of my life that day, and sent him to his death by a machine of my own making. And then several hours later I did it again.
I couldn't bring myself to return to hospice that night and deal with funeral arrangements, so instead I called Chris and invited him over. There was no way of explaining to him that his older self had just succumbed to a brain tumor caused by my machine, and it was better for me if I didn't have to face the truth. Christopher was dead, and it was all my fault, but as long as I had him with me, felt him living, breathing next to me — even if he wasn't yet the man that I had loved — it made me feel safe. It made death seem less real.
He was barely through the door before I tore his clothes off, tracing my fingers all across the firm lines of his living skin. We fucked on the floor in that same studio apartment near Porter Square, surrounded by those same stuffed animals. But the hardwood was nothing compared to the cold steel inside the Nonlinear Molecular Teleportation Matrix, on the night that I first met him, all those years ago.
When we were done I moved myself back to the bed and curled myself into a ball. I didn't cry. Chris tried everything he could to cheer me up but nothing worked. "So listen…" he said, letting his words hang as if anticipating some grand romantic gesture. "I had an idea. For the Nonlinear Molecular Teleportation Matrix. Did you ever try to factor in the full orbital variance of — "
I pulled the sheets up around my body, rolled myself away from him and said, "Can we not talk about that right now?" Circumstances aside, we still had very strict rules about things we did not talk about in bed, and one of them was the Nonlinear Molecular Teleportation Matrix 22.
He reached out his hand and tried to gently roll my body back towards him, but I refused to budge. "I'm sorry, it just…it popped into my mind."
Naturally, I lashed out. "Well I'm glad our sex is so riveting that you spend all eight minutes doing math problems," I said. In retrospect, this may have come off harsher than intended.
"Oh, come off it, Suze. You know I love you. No one else can get me going like you do, and I don't just mean in bed. You get my brain going, too. So then yeah, sometimes I think about this stuff after we — "
My body snapped upright and I turned back to face him. "So you think about math and science every time that we have sex?" I said, an angry finger jabbing towards his chest.
"No, that's what what I said. I'm just trying to help, honestly. Your brain is incredible, Suze. There are so many brilliant ideas floating around in there. And I know you're embarrassed about what happened with the machine, but that doesn't mean — "
"You have no idea what happened with that machine," I said. I pushed myself up off the bed and began to scavenge the floor to find my clothes.
He watched me for a minute with a dumbfounded expression on his face. After I buttoned my jeans, he finally said, "You're right, I don't. But that doesn't mean you should have given up on it. I keep bringing it up because I believe in you, Suzy. And I want the entire world — the rest of human history — I want everyone to recognize how brilliant, how amazing you are, the way I know you are. You deserve to be recognized. All I was trying to say was, there's that extra point-two-five-six-three-six-so-on days in every year, and that small decimal can really screw up calculations after ten, twelve years."
"Is it me or my brain, Chris?" I said. "Which one are you after here? Which one do you really love?" I hated hearing myself say those things. I had never been that kind of person in a relationship. I knew why I was really saying them, of course. But the words never sounded right coming from my mouth. This was not a conversation that I wanted to have, especially not that day.
"You know, most women would love to find a guy who cared so much about their brains."
I wanted to tell him the truth about us — about him, his death, the machine. But in that moment, in my blind rage, I thought that it could be my only chance to save him, to shut down his interest in the machine and stop him from ever going back in time to find me. I thought that I could save his life. All I had to do was push him away.
"Go home, Chris," I said. I picked his shirt up off the ground and threw it at him. "Go home. This was wrong, we shouldn't have done this in the first place."
His boyish face sank like a sad, pathetic critter. It hurt to see those mismatched eyes swell up like that, to know that I had caused that kind of pain in someone who had meant so much to me for so long, for even longer than he had known. "You're serious," he said.
I turned my back to him and waited silently while he dressed. "You can't just do that, you know," he said as he pulled his jeans back on. "You can't just make someone fall in love with you and then throw them back out on the street. You're the one who started this, you know, that night in your office. Before that, I just loved your brain. Now I know and love every single crevice of your life, and you don't even care. Why is that you give up on and push away everything you love?" He didn't even wait for an answer. I suppose he thought it was rhetorical, which it was, but not in any way that he could have understood. He just walked out, for the last time in either of our lives.
Most of my students don't realize that "Quantum Physiology" is actually a pun. They either assume it's a typo, or that's it's just some fancy academic-sounding class with no prerequisites that fulfills a science requirement and isn't full of obnoxiously overeager freshmen. The former group is wrong, anyway. In this particular instance, "quantum" is an adjective, meaning "sudden" or "significant," which then modifies "physiology," being the study of organic processes or functions of an organism or organisms. But of course, at the same time "quantum" typically refers to physics, being the fundamental unit of quantized physical magnitude in terms of angular momentum, and also the smallest quantity of radiant energy. And so the class is actually focused on the study of significant and / or sudden organic processes, as viewed specifically through the lens of quantum mechanics. For example, there's a part of the curriculum dedicated to cancer. Not dedicated like, "in honor of" — although I guess that, too — but like an academic concentration on cancer, and the mechanical physics and unbalanced chemical equations that can cause a tumor to form. It's not about the physical tumor, so much as it is about the quantum-level behaviors that lead to a certain atomic malfunction which in turn causes to replicate some small but crucial piece of cellular information which then continues to replicate itself ad infinitum until it causes permanent and ultimately critical damage to the physical body of which it is a larger part.
Basically, it's the study of the organism as a machine, how math and physics relate to and affect the typical functions of a living thing. So, it's a pun. Get it?
It wasn't until I brought him back to my apartment the morning after we first met [see "Materials & Methods"] that we realized that something had gone wrong. We were about to take a shower when Chris caught his reflection in the mirror and turned back to examine his newly reconstructed form.
"Wait — did you see my eyes? What color are they?" he said, suddenly sounding nervous.
"Brown," I said, and went back to adjusting the water temperature, which involved a Rube Goldberg-esque contraption of rusted antique shower knobs and a great deal of concentration. With my back to him, I added, "Are you trying to test my attention to detail? What kind of question is that?"
"Two brown eyes. You travel back in time and all you have to show for it is another pair of shit-brown eyes." He would describe them that way until the day he died. "They're supposed to be off. My left one, it's always been this weird shade of greyish-green. That was like, the only thing I ever had he's not — so anyway the girls always thought my eyes, they said it was a kind of sexy quirk, I guess. Point is, now they're both just plain oldshit-brown eyes."
I stood up and went to comfort him, tracing my hands along his lithe upper arms. "Maybe it's just the light," I said. "Or maybe your body is still adjusting. Keep in mind that you just underwent an extreme quantum physical trauma. Besides, you shouldn't have to worry what the other girls like."
Looking back, I should have been more concerned, more sensitive to his situation, having freshly emerged from the Nonlinear Molecular Teleportation Matrix. But instead I kissed him and pulled him with me into the hot running water. Only later would we realize that his ocular normalization was indicative of a much larger problem [see 10].
- Technically speaking, Christoper Fabula died on two separate occasions, although his obituary would not be incorrect if it were to list a single date of 14 August 2026. The first time occurred sometime between 11pm yesterday and 8am this morning when, at the age of 21, he activated the nonlinear molecular teleportation matrix and underwent absolute fission in order for his body to be duplicated and reassembled in the past on 7 May 2014. His second death was yesterday as well, at age of 32 when his sickly body finally gave in to the cancer caused by the formerly-benign tumor in his brain that had somehow turned malignant during that same process[see xi].
- The same night that nine-year-old Christopher Fabula experienced the seizure that revealed the then-benign tumor [see xiii] residing in his brain, a fact which I am now realizing may not be as coincidental as I had previously thought.
- Mostly, it was just an excuse to use department funds to throw a massive party under the auspices of research.
During the party, I witnessed Eric Lochlear [see x], a colleague of mine in the graduate physics program, speaking with a group of academics from Stanford University. "It's cute," he said. "Really, it is. She actually thinks that of all people, of everyone in the field, that she's going to be the one to figure out the key to time travel. But I ain't got the guts to tell her that it's all a lot harder than her dumb Japanimation movies make it seem." I stood by idly as he held court and mocked my contributions to the field, sending this small crowd of men into fits of wild laughter as he told them all about my research, and my desire to present for them during the party. As their cackling subsided, I made my way over to the bar and ordered my fourth drink of the evening. It was only cans of Narragansett beer, but I never had a very strong tolerance for alcohol. I finished the can as quickly as I could, then ordered another which I drank as I walked up to the DJ booth — positioned conveniently near the central containment unit of the Nonlinear Molecular Teleportation Matrix, as most of the building's electrical outlets had been rerouted to that location — and asked him to cut the music so that I could speak on the microphone.
In retrospect I will admit that, being rather drunk at the time, my decision-making skills were considerably impaired, which is why I attempted to use the opportunity to present my research right then and there in the middle of the party, regardless of whether or not anyone cared to hear it. Needless to say, this did not go well. My advisor, Professor Angstrom, approached me in the front of the room and very kindly encouraged me to cut my presentation short, but I wouldn't listen. Instead I reached out and pressed the button to power on the machine.
I don't know what I expected to happen in my drunken state, but I remember the whirring energy of the machine warming up. The guests all stood in silence, anticipating the outcome. I listened to the electrical hum as it cut through the quiet of the room, letting its vibrations resonate through my body. The frequencies were low enough to sober me up, at least a little bit. Not actually, of course — I understand how alcohol works — but it certainly felt that way at the time. I don't know how long we stood there waiting, but it felt like time itself had frozen in that moment as we hung on the edge of one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time.
And then the power went out. The room went black, and there wasn't a single time traveler to show for it. Not until, later anyway.
Once the power was restored, the party carried on without a hitch, or so I'm told. I spent most of the rest of the evening sitting in the coat room drinking water and hiding from embarrassment.
- And yes, I may have taken one quick look down south. He was naked, after all.
- The same one where the DJ station had been.
We were in love, Chris and I, and in this particular instance, the power is in the preposition rather than any singular tense. From that first moment that I met him, twenty nine years old and slightly drunk and listening to the lunatic ravings of a madman from the future, as soon as he spoke I could tell. It wasn't a one side infatuation. It wasn't that he loved me; it was that we were in love, that we had been in love. It was a shared experience and I could feel it immediately. There was a primal connection between us, even when one of us hardly knew the other. It was something inexplicable that drew us together and kept us intwined. We knew each other so nakedly that we couldn't help but come together, and it was a connection powerful enough to perpetuate this cycle.
Sometimes I wonder if I would have fallen in love with him if he hadn't already been in love with me — if we weren't already going to be in love — but as I've learned from most relationships, there's no point in asking questions. There's never any logic that applies, no matter how hard you try.
At first, we brushed off this collapse as an isolated episode caused by the stress of undergoing Nonlinear Molecular Teleportation[see v], that his body had been exhausted from such a strenuous trip and complete atomic re-creation that it required a temporary shut down in order to recharge.
We would eventually discover that something had in fact gone awry in the molecular reconstruction that had brought him to the past (that is to say, recreated his molecular information in the past, after destroying his physical body in the future)[see xi]. A single cell, located in the formerly-benign tumor in Christopher's brain[see xiii], did not replicate itself correctly. One tiny bit of molecular information was wrong, causing his heterochromia iridum to "correct" itself, and his tumor to mutate into a malignant state, which led to the cancer, and ultimately, his death.
- The first time for me, anyway; he had been sleeping with me in the future for quite a while at that point.
Though he conveniently omitted any details of our relationship until we were back at my apartment the next evening. We had spent the whole day making love interspersed with conversation, and he offered to make a meal for us, using whatever nonperishables he could scrounge from the cabinets. I was astounded that he knew where to find everything in my apartment, but then I realized that he had already been there, at some point in our future. He was stirring pasta as it boiled on the single burner in the corner of my cramped kitchenette when I asked, "So how were you going to get back?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, based on my work so far — as it is right now anyway, at least theoretically — the machine only works in one direction, and that's backwards. Or at least, in a linear sense, towards the designated past. That's part of why I haven't actually tested it yet." I waited for a response, as if I'd asked a question, but he said nothing. "So does that mean in the future, I figure out how to make it work both ways?" I asked, bouncing where I sat on my full-size bed and knocking over the embarrassingly large collection of stuffed animals that I'd accumulated and that hadn't had time to hide.
"Uhh, no, it's pretty much exactly as it is now," he said. He kept his back turned to me as he strained the steaming water into the sink.
"So why'd you leave me?"
"Because you left me first. Or, you were going to. Are going to, I don't know." I watched him pour the sauce into the pot and stir. There was a sense of tension and frustration in his motions. He scooped the pasta out into the bowls I'd left on the nearly-microscopic counter space beside him. I had given him a sweatshirt and a pair of stretchy gym shorts to wear, and he looked so sweet and silly as he walked towards me that I wanted to forget the whole conversation and the meal and kiss him until his poorly fitting clothes came off again. He handed me a bowl and sat down beside me on the bedstand. My stuffed animals toppled towards him as the mattress depressed. "It was all so…impulsive. We were talking about the machine, and then suddenly you just, you said it was over. That was it. No reason, no nothing. And so my first thought to win you back was to prove that you were right. That your machine really worked, like I knew it would."
I reached over and took his hand in mine and said, "Were you right?"
"Was I right that you were right?" He turned and looked at me with his deep brown eyes and said "I'm here, aren't I?"
- It was far from ideal, but we thought it was better than walking around naked. If anyone was going to question us — which, of course, they didn't — we agreed that he would explain it as a walk of shame from a costume party the night before, which to be fair, was not entirely untrue.
- It wasn't the easiest thing to build a life with a time displaced person, but it wasn't as difficult as one might have imagined. Christopher still had a Social Security number; he vaguely recalled his parents dealing with some complications from alleged insurance fraud during his childhood, which is why we avoided hospital treatment until it was too late. He relied on under-the-table work — mostly manual labor, given his background on his parents' farm. It wasn't ideal, but it was enough that we could still get by. If anyone ever suspected that his presence might be somehow extralegal, they never let on.
- I was not particularly excited about the prospect of sleeping with a student, as Christopher had told me I was going to. My position at MIT was already somewhat tenuous — I had never completed my Ph.D., as I had never actually finished my thesis, which meant I didn't have tenure — and I did not want to risk any further damage to my already floundering career. Fortunately, I had been able to establish myself as a "unique and invaluable intellectual force" at the Institute, according to Professor Angstrom, who was my faculty advisor during my graduate studies and was now the head of the department. He had helped to leverage me into a full-time faculty position despite this lack of credentials, as my unique area of expertise continued to bring in funding for the department, even without my terminal degree.
- Again, I was technically an Assistant Professor, but I wasn't about to argue this detail.
The truth is that I had graded him harshly, in the hopes of dissuading him from any interest in time travel. I thought that I could perhaps change something, change the future and free myself. If he hated time travel, hated me, then he would never be tempted to hijack the machine, to travel back in time and love me once again. I was cold to him in class because I didn't want to let myself feel any affection for this spry, young version of the man I fell in love with. Because I didn't want to perpetuate the cycle in which I was already caught — which, incidentally was precisely what I did.
It was also a very poorly written paper.
- To this day, he still doesn't know.
- Technically, I was only his teacher for the first six weeks of our relationship. A fact which, though it would not have absolved me of the ramifications had the university been aware of our tryst, at least made it easier for me to reconcile the ethics of the situation, its otherwise unique complications notwithstanding.
- He still preferred "Chris" at that point in his life, though I insisted on calling him "Christopher" because that was what I had grown accustomed to. Although I do wonder if he only grew comfortable with the use of his formal name in our past because I continued to use it in the future.
- In part because I already had loved Christopher, for more than a decade at that point. And even if I had the chance to be with Chris for just as long, it wouldn't have been the same, because I would have already had the experience of that relationship. While the younger Chris was certainly on the path to becoming the Christopher I knew and loved, he was also younger and less mature than when I had first met him that night after the Time Travel Convention. Cognitive dissonance doesn't begin the describe the sensation of being with someone who is going to be the man you love and holding on to that sensation in whatever you can, while actively trying to steer him away from the path that would lead him to become that same person. Or perhaps I was never active enough
- The other one was Professor Madison in the Humanities Department.