Derailed

My name is Luke Mitchell. Always was. Always will be.

I've spent the last two years at university, studying physics. Nice place, nice dorms, nice girls. Always wanted to get a job in it. I always- this is going to sound really, really shit, and I'm about to sound a little geeky boy, but I always loved that stuff. Ever since I was a kid and my dad first showed me his telescope. A job in physics. That'd be perfect. So I spent my whole life working for it, for as long as I can remember. After-school clubs, tutors, revision, open courses, everything. I got every physics book I could get my hands on and just burned it into my head. The university snapped me up when I took Maths, Physics and Electronics at A-Level and came out with A's in all three. Perfect.

I'm nearly at the end of my second year. There's some project going on in Japan that saw my grades and sent me an email the next day, and it's a guaranteed place as soon as I finish the orientation course.

There's just one thing; I wish it didn't take so long. I don't know if I can wait another year in uni. As for the project in Japan, if I don't finish the course in six weeks, they'll give the place to someone else. I can do it, but still. It's like whenever I read a book; I always turn to the last page and just find out there that the butler did it. I never saw the point in deliberately not knowing.

I'm walking back to the dorm after a lecture. Another year, I think to myself. It gets tiring. Really tiring.

I turn round the corner and the air starts to buzz. There's a smell in the air like burning copper.


'Perfect landing. About ten seconds ahead. Quick S and R?'

'The quickest. I told you-'

'Yeah, no problem. Chill.'

'Last time you said-'

'This isn't last time. Chill, boss. Just chill.'

'This stuff's still experimental. We don't know what might happen if-'

'Paradox. Yeah. Chill.'


The air in front of me starts to glow. The first thing I think to do is duck behind the corner. The glow turns into a gleaming white ball, then a hundred descending rays of light. They come together and take shape, and the next thing I know, he's standing there, all six feet of him. The stuff he's wearing is like nothing I've ever seen; it's a suit of shining metal plates over a dark-blue jumpsuit, his head's covered in a helmet and visor that, as close as I can tell, is made of the same material, and in one hand he's holding a long, thin silver… is that a gun? What kind of gun's made of chrome?

Behind me, the whole process repeats. There's the smell, the rushing air, the glow, then the rays of light coming together, and then this…

I can't even describe what comes out the other side. It's tall, and at a glance it might look like somebody in a costume. It's green, and instead of hair it's got thick, blue dreads that come halfway down its back. Its face is some kind of snapping, snarling thing that's straight out of Jurassic Park.

It barks and jumps forward. I shout out and duck to the side as it sails clean over me, and I hear it slam into the man.

It's a few seconds before I manage to get back up and look round. When I do, I can't even tell who's winning. The man has his hands around the thing's throat, and its claws are scratching away at the- well I think it's armour. He finally manages to shake the thing off, then aims the gun and squeezes the trigger. It doesn't fire a bullet; instead, this thick, blue line just shoots out of the barrel and vanishes into the thing's chest without even a ripple. It makes a noise like a rabid dog and collapses.

The man gets up, and I see.

The helmet must have been knocked off. I can see his face.

I know the face. Blue eyes, sandy hair, a scar on the left cheek. He got it when he fell off a bike at four years old.

I know the face because-

It's mine.

He… or I… he marches over to this thing, takes a pair of bracelets from his belt and slaps them on its wrists. They must be magnetized, because the second they're on they clamp themselves together, and as much as it struggles the creature can't get them off. It finally occurs to me that it isn't dead. The laser or whatever it was must have been on "stun", like on Star Trek or something.

'Jhiralde Thwaine of the Second Moon of the Sensal,' I- he- says in a voice that just has to be mine, 'you are under arrest for abduction, murder and illegal use of time-travel technology.

'Bite me, earthssscat,' the thing hisses in a voice like a snake, 'little sssslut wasss begging for a Sssenssal bite!'

I- the other me- doesn't do anything but point the gun at the side of its head. 'Dispatch,' he says into his wrist, 'successful Search and Recover. Requesting retrieval.'

Wow.

Now I step out. I can't think of anything else to do. "I" and the- did he say that thing was an alien? - are glowing already. That white light's starting to flood out of nowhere.

He puts his helmet back on. Then he looks up and sees me.

He freezes in some unknown horror.

'Sh-'

There's a flash. Streaks of light replace them, and then vanish upwards in two separate columns. By the time they pass the roof, they converge into a pair of tiny blue pinpoints and vanish.

And it's over.


'What the hell was that?'

'Near run-in. Jesus.'

'What?'

'It's fine. No derailing.'

'He didn't see you?'

'…No.'

'Luke?'

'…'

'Luke?'

Commander Smythe covered his mouth and trembled. The words "TRANSMISSION TERMINATED: TEMPORAL SOURCE LOST" flashed across the screen in front of him. He shook his head in dismay. Of course the transmission was gone. It had never happened now. He reached over and picked up a communicator.

'This is Commander Smythe,' he said regretfully, 'entered into the T.I.A. memorial log: Master Sergeant Luke Mitchell. Founding officer. Birth era: Early-21st century. Derailed as of the twenty-seventh of October, 2376. With honours.'


Wow.

That's the only word that comes into head when I wake up the next day. I saw… I pinched myself a hundred times and actually, literally, booked an eye test to make sure I'd really seen it. Wow. A… a time traveller! And it was me! I'm going to be a… a time traveller! It's hard to even stop bouncing off the walls.

Six weeks fly by in a daze. I miss three essays and I don't even worry about it. I mean, why worry? I've seen the last page of the book, and the ending… the ending is just incredible! Me, a time traveller!

I deal with lecturers droning on, and I don't seem to be half as focused as I always was. They call me to see them and discuss how I "seem distracted" and it's not even a problem. Of course it's not.

They say "you used to want a career in this" and "it has to be worked for". But they don't get it. The work's already done. I'm already there. I could be back with the dinosaurs, or standing on a spaceship a thousand years from now. The work's done. I'm there.

I find an email from the Japanese firm that contacted me before, all about how I never showed up for the rest of that orientation course. Six weeks ago, I'd have dreaded what I saw at the bottom of the message: that they've given the place away to someone else. I don't care. It makes me sound like such an ass, but I don't. I really don't. I don't need to.

I look at what they were working on in Tokyo. Something about particle acceleration. Temporal science or something.

Temporal science. It suddenly hits me.

Temporal.

Time.

Was that it? Am I going to be there when it's invented? The day- my head starts spinning- the day they invent time travel? And I'm still going. Of course it'll happen. It has happened. It's like I came back and made it happen myself. This is destiny. It has to be.

I don't worry about the email. No need to. I'm there. Always was. Always will be.

And to think, I was just sitting there not knowing. What's the point in that?

I wander out that evening. I still haven't calmed down from it. Maybe I'll go for a drink. God, I can drink myself stupid now and not need to worry about it.

I cut through the field by the old railroad tracks. I don't even bother looking.

I never see it coming.


Aoki covered her mouth. 'Oh, God… we're sure?'

'A hundred and ten percent,' Smythe answered bitterly. 'Derailed. Never even went to the institute. Never even graduated; just got himself hit by a train one evening.'

'Just like that?'

'Like that. It's what happens,' Smythe sighed, 'what happens when they see themselves. That's what happens when you don't think. That's what happens when you get reckless. No mess, no fuss, you're just derailed.'


P.C. Whithall shook his head in dismay and looked away from the scene. The metal fence was crushed, the earth torn beneath the husk of the train, only its very end tip still lying across the tracks. 'What happened? Any…?'

'Only one, thank God,' P.C. Waters said, climbing up from the tracks. 'We found him… found the top half. Student from over the way. Luke Mitchell. Must've taken a shortcut. Poor dumb bastard.'

'The train?'

'Bad repair on one of the wheel arches. Makes you think, though. Great big thing just goes tearing along, and then one second and it's derailed.'


I wake up and look around. I don't feel anything. My legs are still there. No pain.

No, of course there isn't.

I look over, and he's standing there waiting. It's him; it has to be. That suit. That helmet. That gun.

It takes a moment before I have the guts to speak.

'Am I…?'

'We both are,' he says, then introduces himself. 'Master Sergeant Luke Mitchell, Temporal Intervention Agency.'

'This isn't right,' I blurt out. No, it isn't. It can't be. How can it? 'I- I'm supposed to- look at me!' I point frantically at the other me. 'Just look at me! How can this be happening?'

He looks at me. 'It is,' he says.

'But… I'm supposed to… I saw it!' I cry, 'It happened!'

He takes a step forward. He replies. When he does, it chills me to the bone and I finally realise. I remember what I forgot the moment I saw my own future, and never saw everything that led to it.

'It happened,' he says, 'because you worked for it.'

He reaches into a fold in his armour, and I realise it's a pocket. He holds up a book.

'That,' he says, 'is the point of not knowing.'

When I die, I'm not a hero. I'm not a Master Sergeant. I'm not a time traveller from the future.

I'm just Luke Mitchell. Always was. Always will be.