All The Time

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Part 1 of 3 (Present)

Robert looked at his watch, not so much at the time as at the watch itself. It was the very same one he had been wearing during college graduation, a good five years ago, twelve timezones away. The brown leather was slightly worn and the glass face had visible nicks from his very active line of work. Yeah, it's the same watch that had been given to him by his best friend while working one of their sleepless undergraduate nights at the physics lab. It was a reminder for when it's time to get some shut-eye, she quipped, and a reminder of how little time actually ever bothered him.

Good memories, he thought, as he closed his notebook for last minute configuration checks. Everything was set. All that was left now was to wait for the right moment and press the ignition button. The whirr of the machinery's massive armature that revolved around his control station announced the culmination of the five years of work for him here in the States. Robert smiled and found it ironic that the very sacrifice that he had made to make the leap of faith in doing research abroad was going to be the very goal he'd be reaching for.


Half of his undergraduate thesis, the one that laid foundation to his current work had been hers. She was more than a muse. She was practically the right lobe of his grey matter, and it was through her natural brilliance that the project advanced beyond anybody would have expected. At the time, Robert completely knew what would happen next. The potential of their project - and of course their tandem, would be a crime to not pursue.

They'd continue work on time quantum properties of different materials with regards to their time dilation - the property to expand or contract time - one of the front line fields for a practical application of time travel. They'd complete it and accept Nobel awards for it someday. Somewhere in between, they'd get married and have a family too - probably. In Robert's mind the deal was sealed, only waiting to be finalized.

But that was then.

Five years is a very long time, Robert told himself.

Robert pulled out a note from the breast pocket of his shirt. The scribbles are still legible, but the paper is in poor condition. How it looked like didn't matter, what was important was written on it was his link to the past.

A few days before graduation, five years ago, Laura broke the news that she had different plans. She had secretly turned down the post-graduate offers that they had both considered. For all her talents and skills, she wanted to stay in the Philippines to teach and take care of her family instead - a family that until then, Robert hadn't even known of. At the time, he could only feel nothing but fury for Laura, for how she got in the way of his plans - and his vision of their future. "Solely having the means does not always justify going for the ends," she said with is own words. Laura tried to explain her side as best Robert thought she could, but persistence outside academics was neither their strengths.

There was no stopping his flight to the United States and Robert figured, the best way to go about the whole thing was to just ignore it. He could carry the research on his own. Handicapped, but capable. After the thesis was published and all their clearances were signed, Robert cut off all ties from Laura. It's probably easier for both of them that way, and there were some things that could be said best by being never spoken.

The last time they saw each other was during the graduation ceremony, Robert recalled. They were to accept an award for their thesis - together. The completion of the project and the rest that it allowed Laura had only turned her usual radiance even brighter that day. She was, as he had always thought, as beautiful physically as her mind was, and their time away from each other only heightened it. It made Robert think of what he was really leaving behind for a few moments, but the graduation was what mattered at that time. They accepted the award and even gave each other a casual hug. Despite their falling apart, he clearly remembered Laura's beaming smile, as though everything was just fine. It irked Robert somewhat, but in hindsight, it was that same smile that came to haunt him for the last five years.

"Congratulations," she said while they were still onstage. Robert tried to keep a stern face. What was she up to? Laura looked at their plaque for distinguished research. "More than what we were able to accomplish, I think the greatest achievement of my stay here was knowing somebody like you." She then gave Robert the unexpected kiss in the cheeks, which the audience lapped up and cheered to in a frenzy. "II couldn't have done it without you Laura," he answered as best as his blushing self could.

"What a moment eh? We finally did it."

Laura was half listening. Her eyes were focused right into Robert. "Ever think about what your accomplishment could do if ever you complete it? I always have. Promise me you'll tell me what it's like to be able to relive moments like this over and over again. And promise me you'll tell me that yesterday so I can change my mind. " They both laughed their first one in a while. Robert knew she was just joking. There was no changing her mind. Laura handed a note to Robert, still smiling, slightly flushed by what she just did, and already walking away. "Later," - her mouth motioned without speaking.

Later. Five years ago. The note was that very one in his hand. He never opened it that day, afraid that he'd be tempted to go back on his dreams, simply because his heart wouldn't agree with his mind. No, he resolved, he'd continue the study, and that was that.

That was that.

The shots of electricity started appearing overhead - a sign that he only had a few seconds left. The building administrators would've probably heard it by now and they'd start wondering who was doing unauthorized tests in this ungodly of hour. But what would happen by the time they arrived didn't matter. Because in those five years, Robert finally had enough time to read the message.


Robert folded it once gain. He had first read it one night, six months into his internship. He felt a sense of longingness that made him call her for the first time since they had last met. She could not be reached. None of their old ways of contacting each other was still available. Every attempt he made to talk to her became increasingly desperate. Had she changed her mind after all? It was like she had vanished. If back then he felt sure of her feelings for him - the lack of communication cast it in doubt.

One thing that didn't change however, whether or not her feelings were still there, he at least know where his was. It had been with her all along, and the sudden separation only made him anxious. Even if he did manage to get contact of her, what of it? Not showing up as instructed in the note was already a clear answer to her.

Work first before you, Laura - because I'm a dork like that.

That kind of answer. But then what of his feelings? Some problems simply came off as harder than quantum physics. Half of them, Robert thought, were on the topic of love.

Sometime after he went to the States, and he didn't really know when it was, but sometime during that first year, he made up his mind that the only real way that he could ever rectify things is by traveling in the past. It was all possible, and given his determination, he would definitely do it. His race forward slowly turned into a race to go back - to that turnpike where he felt he missed a turn.

The ignition button changed its colour to green. Robert took a look at the control readings one last time. The sad reality of his work was that time travel was far from a fairy tail, not as convenient as they'd imagine it would be. There was only enough quantum material in this world for one person to travel as far as he needed to travel - and even then there was only enough energy for fifteen minutes. Robert took a deep breath and plunged his index finger into the control. All those years of work, down to this.

Fifteen minutes borrowed from the past to reclaim his future.

Part 2 of 3: The Past

For all the hours of theories and conjectures that he had put into time-traveling, Robert had not once considered what doing it would actually feel like to actually do it. Quantum theories aside, he had clearly never taken into account what it would feel like as a human being to enter a time dilation. The surprising sensation of energy, youth, and exuberance that coursed through his body shocked him. Understandably, prior to him, the only things ever to get sent back in time were inanimate objects for controlled experiments. To jump strait into human testing was a huge risk, a risk that, considering his situation, sublimated into a rush of youthful adrenaline.

Robert opened his eyes and suddenly he was there again, among the graduating students, the same ones five years ago, but somehow different. Robert smiled. He had done it. What they never really tell you about time traveling is that because you're traveling back, everybody just grows younger, and then suddenly there's this feeling that you are somehow forced into a position of superiority, as though everybody else has lessened in statute. It took him a few seconds to compose himself. He looked at the watch.

Fifteen minutes.


Robert hastily wove his way through the throngs of students taking their graduation photos. The last time he was there, he didn't even pay attention to them. Now he couldn't help but do so. He could make out a face or two, people he'd wanted to talk to again, but his time was limited - and it was all for one purpose alone.

Ten minutes.

The run from the ceremony hall to the Starbucks branch was a short one, but Robert panted heavily. He recalled that this was the place where they had worked on a lot of the theories that went to the project many years ago - no, a few weeks ago. He stopped short of entering, clutched the paper. Was this it? The time-space coordinate that he most wanted to go back to.

Everybody misses a turnpike or two. Sometimes moving forward also means making a U-turn and going back to what we have missed.

At the far end of the cafe, sitting on the familiar couch with the familiar cup of tea on hand, was Laura. She was as beautiful as he could recall. How could he have taken this for granted? For somebody who was able to figure out a scientific problem that has plagued mankind since the Biblical ages, he felt like an idiot for dumping her and not realizing his mistake until much later. Five years ago he had missed being there, and now, he was there, but as a different person. No, he told himself, she would understand. If only one person in the world could, she was that person.

Laura saw Robert walking forward, her eyes locked on to him, as though seeing something new and familiar at the same time. Robert knew her mind was already racing to figure out what was going on. But this time, he'll just have to beat her to it.

"Laura, sorry I am late," Robert said as he sat down, silently relishing the familiar feeling of sitting on his favorite couch again with the woman he thought he'd never see again. "You can't possibly imagine how much I went through to be here."

Laura stared at him for what felt like half an infinity of suspense.

"Is that really you, Rob? You look different. You seem to be you but not you at the same time," Laura touched his face, still unbelieving, but with eyes sparkling with fascination. "From what year have you come from? What exactly is happening here?"

Quick as ever, Robert thought. Just as he had imagined, she already knew he was a five year older version of what she had last saw him. "Heh, I knew you'd understand. Five years ago - no - a while ago - the younger me decided to skip out on this conversation, Laura. It was a mistake. I'm proxying for my idiotic former self."

Laura grinned. "Really? I can't believe it. You have actually done it! You've gone back in time!"

Robert nodded. "Though just this once, and only for a few minutes."

Laura's signature eyebrow raised up. "And you decided that this was the best time to go back to?"

"Well it's the only time I could think of. And you're the only person I could think of meeting."

Laura put her tea down and crossed her legs. "I assume you have a lot to tell me, and time's a wasting. Go ahead, dear."

Robert finally let it all out, all those times that he was abroad, how he could never feel as accomplished again without her, and how her absence drove him to build a time machine just so he could tell his feelings.

"Feelings?" Laura interrupted.

"Feelings," Robert answered, his voice staggering from the urge to let out what he had been holding back for years, "I came back so I can have the opportunity to say that I love you. I always have, even though I probably didn't know at the time how important it is to have somebody with you at your worst; at your best. I am sorry if I left you, if I felt selfish enough to not even consider what you wanted. And I'm begging you to not leave me anymore. "

Laura leaned forward and kissed Robert; it was warm, and tingly, and it felt like the world stopped for a moment for that one kiss. And the five long years felt like it was nothing at all. "I love you too Robert. But I know that despite all that, it's your destiny to complete the project, as you have, with or without me."

"But -"

"We love each other, and now we both know it. Even if we can turn back time, we can't turn back feelings - and for as long as these things remain, I'd like to believe nothing will change."

Robert, teary-eyed, smiled as though the weight of the world was suddenly no longer crushing his spirit down. "You mean to say you'll come with me to the States?" Laura shook her head. "Time travel can change only your circumstance, never your character. I want to be here, and you wanted to be there. We both have our reasons and to some extent, we both are right. And this feeling that you have right now, and how I probably will feel in the future, they're feelings that were forged in the five years that we spent reflecting on it. It's too beautiful to be spoiled. "

Thirty seconds.

"But how will this change anything!?" Robert protested. Laura jotted down something on a piece of tissue, folded it and handed it over to Robert. "Five years from now, open this note up and you will know. Even if you are here now, the past is something that we need not change. Let's work on the future instead. I will make an effort so you will not find me until then, so your motivations wont change, and so this meeting will happen. Read that note and then we will meet again. "

"Five years from now, what if circumstances change? What if things become different?" Laura gave Robert a hug and laughed.

"Hey, you had five years to think about that," Laura replied with a hint of jeering, "Be fair and give me that same time. Don't worry and remember, only your circumstance, never your character."

"II'll wait for you then!" said Robert, his labored breathing making it hard for him to reply.

"For what it's worth, I kinda like how you've matured," Laura smiled and winked. "Oh and the goatee suits you. I'll see you in five?"

Robert could not even reply. In an instant, the quantum dilation closed up. The continuum fabric restored the kink and the process of rejuvenation bore down on Robert like a heavy torrential rain inside his mind and all over his body. His eyes opened, his finger on the control panel and a crumpled note on his left hand.

Back to reality. His reality.

Part 3 of 3: Future

Five years had gone by in a moment's notice, took its toll in one swift motion and made Robert fall to his knees. His whole body shivered. What was it that made him shake to his very core? Was it really the time traveling? Or was it Laura's parting words? Suddenly it somehow felt clearer. Laura had not disappeared from his world by mere coincidence. If their theories held any water, she had been hiding deliberately because of what he had said to her five years ago. Did it make sense? Or rather did it have to? Laura was right. His circumstance indeed had changed. Now it was up to him to see if their feelings did not.

He opened the crumpled tissue paper up.

This time, there's no turning back time. This time, the only direction is moving forward.

The administration guys entered the lab with their white coats and fire extinguishers, undoubtedly stirred from the noise. There was no fire to quench. Matter of fact, Robert realized, there was nothing anymore. The quantum material he had carefully amassed was gone. It would take years more to gather enough for another test, if it was even possible, and even longer to synthesize a replacement substance. None of it mattered though. The funding would eventually dry up, and his project would likely be just another stepping stone towards a more sustainable solution.

For the first time in a long while, Robert smiled. Somehow, that the project wasn't the dream he thought he could realize on his own was just fine for Robert. The ends to his means was finally achieved, he'd gone back to the one time and space coordinate that mattered, and everything else felt like fruitful byproducts. The research still had to be concluded, but like pretty much everything else, it could wait.

After explaining to the admin what had just happened through some fabricated half-truths he'd mastered to spin all these years, Robert walked out of the facility and sought tickets for the first available plane back. No, his fate would have to be decided some other time, somewhere else, with somebody else.

The excitement and anxiety made for a strange cocktail in Robert's heart on his way to the meeting place. As he had envisioned it, time travel would have removed any room for doubts in pretty much anything. You make a mistake that you can walk away from, you can do it all over again. And again. And again. Yet, now that Robert stood in front of the truth about his work on time travel, he realized that there was more to it than just that, and his case being proof, that time travel did little to remove doubts. Rather than manifesting as a power from the gods, it appealed to his more human side - it was limited and fragile and unpredictable. No, he told himself, time travel does not change character, right Laura?


There was still time, and to worry so much now that the end is close in sight was Robert closed his eyes and slept.


Five years had gone by, and although Robert had been in the coffee shop no later than twenty nine hours ago, changes from half a decade had magically transformed their meeting place. The chairs were all different. The familiar baristas had long since gone, and even the expressionist paintings that gave the place an atmosphere of renaissance thinking were replaced by more hip looking pop abstracts. He wondered, did I cause this to change? Thinking about it, there was a running parallel theory to time travel, that if you went back in time and did anything - even just exist, you send ripples in the chronocontinuum that changed the future irreversibly.

Five years, however, was too small a time to have anything changed significantly right?

Robert looked at his watch again. The meeting time was supposed to be now already, and there was no clear sign of anybody resembling Laura anywhere. He thought of the idea of ​​meeting a Laura who was five years older than how he had last seen her only a day ago. It sent tingles in his spine. Where was she anyway? His heart beat faster and faster after his mind ran through each possible scenario.

He took a seat at one of the wooden chairs near where their favorite corner couches used to be and scouted for Laura while pretending his best to look composed. What if she did change her mind? What if she did so years ago? How could he even know?

"Excuse me," an unfamiliar, hoarse voice came from behind him. He turned around and saw an old woman, possibly in her sixties. She wore an apron with the same logo as the coffee shop and held an empty tray on one hand. She had an oddly familiar look about her, and she was smiling. "Robert?" she called for him.

Robert took a deep breath. Only Laura could've known he would be there today. "Y-yes that's me." The old woman pulled out a chair and took a seat. "Did you know that this place burned down a few years ago?" the old woman told Robert. Robert's heart stopped. "What do you mean?"

"The coffee shop here couldn't sustain operations, and the owner decided to cut losses by attempting to collect insurance by burning the place down. What a mess."

Robert looked around and realized that indeed many things looked different, as though it had been rebuilt - not just the paintings, even the layout, only slightly, but still noticeable. "But then why is it still open?"

"I reopened it with my own savings, after a certain time traveling person said that he'll come back to this place to keep a promise, a good four years ago. A pretty unbelievable reason to do business, don't you think? " the old woman said while chuckling, "I'd say it's an interesting story to tell new customers."

Robert nodded, only to feel his heart stop. He took a look at the woman again. She was staring at him as though she already knew what he would get what she was trying to imply. He tried to stammer out a question or two, but to see an old woman meet with him instead ...

"Laura? How ... did you also time travel back from the future?"

No response came, only a kind warm stare and the same smile that greeted him earlier. She stood up and went back to the coffee preparation area. "Dearie, I think your long awaited visitor's already here."

"Just a minute!" said a voice from the backroom.

"I'm no the one you're looking for," the old lady turned back to Robert and winked. "My granddaughter told me everything. She also asked me to say those things to you, Robert. She told me I'd get a priceless reaction from you. And for the price of having to resurrect a dying coffee joint to fulfill her wish, I'd say your face earlier was worth it. " Robert felt himself sinking slowly into his chair while the old lady laughingly returned to serving people's drinks.

"Y-yeah. Good one."

And then there was finally Laura, coming out of the employee area like the embodiment of an answer to all his questions about life. True enough, time had been kind to Laura. She had visibly matured, and only made her even more of a sight for the weary Robert. And though some things changed, her face still showed the kind, thoughtful - and admittedly mischievous soul that he had once taken for granted, and now valued more than anything in this world.

As she came closer, Robert's view blurred, beset by overdue tears that overtook his will to appear restrained. No, no more hesitations. Robert threw himself to Laura, and wrapped his arms around her. To feel her warmth, the slight push of her exhaling so close to him. "Damn it Laura, you're late."

Laura beamed a smile. "To be fair, I was fifteen minutes late, paltry compared to your five years."
She turned her head towards her amused grandmother, whose face was propped by both her hands on the kitchen counter. "I even prepared company while you waited." When she saw Robert look as well, she waved her hand and smiled.

"That was pretty cruel, you know."
"What is?"
"Making your grandmother pretend she's you."
"I'm surprised you actually fell for it. Last time I checked, you're the one with the time traveling machine."
"Well I. .."
"At least I can still confirm that you believe I can build one myself."
"Well now, can I take that as a challenge?"
"Silly Robert. I love you. And I don't need a machine to time travel," Laura said. "With you by my side, I can time travel into our future. One second at a time."
Robert laughed. "Sounds slow, but I think I'm perfectly fine with tha-"

Laura kissed him without letting him finish, and that was as much as what Robert had wanted all along. He had been in love, still was in love, and with those came the realization that for all time travel was worth, nothing could replace enjoying the present, reminiscing the past, and looking forward to a future with somebody beside him.

Robert held her hand. Walking out with her, he stole a glance at his watch again, not so much at the watch as the time, for at that moment, he knew.

With Laura, he now had all the time in the world.

The End.


Anonymous said...

A really good read :) There are some typos but all in all it tied up pretty well.

Anonymous said...

Burned down, older person that seemed like the actual person, sounds a lot like my sassy girl :))

Anonymous said...

Someone's trying to pass your work off as their own


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