By Paul Dicken
At precisely 10:47 p.m. on a dull autumnal evening, the door to the Members’ Bar burst open, and Ambrose came stumbling across the threshold in a state of evident disarray. This was, of course, not an unusual occurrence at the Aleph Club, and would not have provoked so much as an inquisitively raised eyebrow or disapproving rustle of a broadsheet were it not for the curious fact that Ambrose was already quietly seated in the Members’ Bar, and had been for some time, hunched over a large gin and tonic in the far corner of the room.
Ambrose looked up at the sudden commotion. Someone seated near the fireplace muttered aloud about having to pay twice the membership fees if they were going to take up twice the space-time continuum, especially on the weekend. The Club Secretary made a sort of harrumphing noise into his sherry and returned to his newspaper. Ambrose smiled warmly and made his way over to the table he was already occupying in the corner.
“There you are!” said Ambrose, taking a seat. “I was hoping to catch you.”
“Well, you’re just in time,” replied Ambrose cheerfully. A simple temporal paradox was no reason to forget your manners. “But you’ll have to be quick, I was just off to see Professor Braun and some new-fangled machine he’s been working on.”
“I know,” answered Ambrose. “I was just with him. Turns out the old boy has gone and invented time travel or something. Jolly clever stuff.”
“Does it work?” asked Ambrose.
“Roaring success,” replied Ambrose. “But try and act surprised. He really got the hump when I already knew what he was going to show me. Ruined the whole show.”
Ambrose thought about it for a moment. “But wouldn’t that have been proof that the whole thing was going to work? Already had worked. Already had was going to work? Something like that anyway.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” replied Ambrose. “Or rather, I had thought of that, but it didn’t seem very convincing at the time. Is not going to have seemed very convincing at the time,” he added.
“Now look, you’re not here to kill Granny are you?” asked Ambrose, suddenly serious. “I mean, that’s what you chappies do, isn’t it? Travel through time killing your grannies? Granted, she can get rather tiresome…”
“No, no.” Ambrose waved his hand dismissively. “Anyway, that only works if you go and kill her before she gives birth to Mother. You know, so that we are never born.”
“She would raise one hell of a stink. Frightfully awkward at the next family gathering.” He furrowed his brow. “But if we are never born,” reasoned Ambrose slowly, “that means we would never have been able to go back in time and kill the old girl in the first place.”
“So it could hardly have been our fault then, could it?” answered Ambrose triumphantly. “Completely off the hook for the whole thing. But in any case, we’re wasting time,” he continued, looking up at the clock above the bar as it crept ineluctably towards last orders. “I had rather hoped that we could avoid this conversation.”
“Sorry, old boy,” replied Ambrose. “It’s just that I’ve never met a time traveler before. Had a few burning questions to get off the old chest.”
“Oh I know. But believe me,” continued Ambrose, craning his head around to locate the barman, “you’re going to find the whole thing extremely tedious once you’re sitting where I am now.”
“Well, I’ll be sure to avoid getting into such a conversation should I ever travel back in time and run into myself at the Members’ Bar,” replied Ambrose. “In fact, if the Professor’s machine-thingy works, I will be sure to come back to precisely this moment just to ensure that we don’t have this dreadful conversation.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I thought,” said Ambrose, still evidently distracted by the missing barman. “It didn’t work out very well.”
“So why are you here?” asked Ambrose, noticing his companion’s distress.
“Well, the truth is that I was hoping to catch last orders at the bar,” replied Ambrose. “Having missed it in the future. What with it being somewhat later in the day. It being the future and all.”
“That makes sense,” agreed Ambrose. He raised his chin as the barman finally reappeared, caught his eye, and made an esoteric circling gesture in the air. The barman nodded and began to mix another round of gin and tonics.
“Much obliged, old boy,” said Ambrose, visibly relieved as the barman appeared with their drinks. He began to rummage in his jacket pocket, and then a dark shadow crossed his face. “I hate to impose on you…” he began.
Ambrose brushed his embarrassment away. “Not at all. Happy to oblige. What’s mine is yours,” he said. “Literally, I suppose.” He handed some money to the barman. “He’s from the future, you know,” he added by way of explanation.
“Yes, sir,” replied the barman, who had better things to worry about.
“Very decent of you,” said Ambrose, taking an appreciative sip of his drink. “I seem to have used up all my spare cash earlier in the day.”
“Don’t mention it,” said Ambrose, knocking his back and getting to his feet. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I don’t want to be late for the Professor.”
“You weren’t,” replied Ambrose, raising a glass to himself as he left the room.
Professor Braun was somewhat disappointed when Ambrose already seemed to know the purpose of his fantastical contraption. Ambrose thought about trying to explain why this was actually a good thing, but somehow it didn’t seem very convincing. What he really wanted was another drink—but by now the Members’ Bar was closed, and in any case he seemed to have already spent the last of his money earlier in the day. And then he had an idea…