“It’s not the whole risk of changing-historical-events/becoming-your-own-dad/killing-your-ancestors thing that aggravates me most about time travel, it’s keeping all the damn tenses and grammar straight - when you try talking about something you already did, but that you did in the future, that will lead to something you’re going to do, that you’ll do in the past - it’s enough to drive a person insane, it is.”
Paul had not been careful about his temporal calculations. Now there were five of him. Sequestered at the base, of course. Waiting for the time-streams to catch up with themselves and only one Paul to be left behind.
There were already a team of mathematicians working on the pay rates for this.
“You didn’t fill it out properly.”
“Ugh, I’m going to do that yesterday!” Paul handed it over to another Paul. How he knew this was one from a previous time stream was a mystery to the observers.
“I have to hurry,” said the Paul filling out the pages. “I have a mission in five minutes to go back and record the Grassy Knoll. It never got taken off the schedule. I’ll be back two days ago.”
Doctor Aldred winced. “You are not allowed to discuss your time streams.”
“We don’t,” said all the Pauls in unison. “We remember.”
Okay. That was creepy. “And you still can’t figure out which one is Paul Prime?” she asked.
“No. We all know we’re Paul Prime.”
“Given enough time,” added another Paul. He handed a device over to a different Paul and saluted the rest. “Be one of you soon!”
“What are you working on?” asked Doctor Aldred.
“Temporal limiter,” said the one reading tech specs. “Make sure this level of fuckup doesn’t happen again.”
“The good news is, it has to work,” said one of the Pauls. “None of us have any memory past the point of completion.”
“Wait. You’re all working from a script?”
“Temporal paradox in motion,” said Paul. “We’re doing what we remember doing because we remember doing it. It’s like having one of those dance charts put into the floor, and the only way across the room is to follow the numbered feet.”
“It pisses all of us off, we can tell you,” said another Paul. “Do you know how hard it is not to just wing it?”
“Winging it’s what got-gets-will-get you into this mess,” said Doctor Aldred.
“That’s why we’re working on the limiter,” said the Paul who was doing math.
“Or doing what we remember doing to work on the limiter,” the Paul reading tech specs turned a page. “Just in time. You need to tweak the neutron flow north, not south.”
“I’m in your script, too, aren’t I?” said Doctor Aldred.
“Yes, but you have the benefit of being a free agent in this.”
“We literally can’t tell you what to do.”
“And the reason you’re not talking to each other…?”
“Aside from the script? It’s a pain in the ass to talk about time travel.”
“Haven’t you noticed?” said the Paul who was fiddling with magnets. “When you get to multiple applicable tenses, you sound like you have a stammer.”
“It’s cute, though,” said the Paul doing paperwork. He finished with a satisfied, Ha! “My turn in the barrel. I’ll see you last week.”