The Great Time War of 2022-10-03 09:45

(Unlike the rest of this blog, this is fiction. Or is it?)

Alright, let’s do this, Daniel thought as he walked down into the basement from the kitchen, coffee cup in one hand and a small notepad in another. Walking up to his workshop in the corner, he put the coffee at the left edge of the desk, as far away from the mess of electronics and wires as possible, and sat down. The notepad went onto the desk right in front of him. Its top page showed the indentations left by the pen when Daniel wrote yesterday’s to-do list onto the previous top page, now torn out.

In front of him, occupying most of the desk, was what once used to be a microwave, before it was disassembled, modified, and reassembled most of the way back. Its inner chamber was now lined with reflective insulation, blocking the view inside; its right panel was missing because it didn’t fit over the new set of transformers and relays; and on top Daniel had bolted on a printed circuit board with the microcontroller—the new brains for the device. But the main changes, what made this no longer a microwave, were on the inside. If he was right, and several different calculations suggested that he was, these changes should let him send small amounts of matter back in time. In theory, at least. Today was the day to see if it worked.

The were-microwave had two thick wires, one red and one black, running to the power supply on the right. Daniel turned the power supply on using the switch at the back and dialed in the right voltage, but keept the output switch on the front of the supply in the “off” position, making sure that no current was flowing through the wires to the device.

A USB cable ran from the PCB on top of the microwave to the laptop on the left. Powering on the laptop, Daniel brought up the terminal screen that showed the logs from the microcontroller. It was empty for now.

Everything was ready, just as he left it last night after the final assembly. Daniel went through the next steps in his head: once he turned on the power to the device, it should take about thirty seconds to go through the bootup and self-test sequence. If the power supply says that the device is drawing too much current or if anything starts smoking, he would turn off the power immediately. If the microcontroller prints an error in the terminal, he would power off immediately. If the startup sequence takes longer than sixty seconds—he took out the phone and opened it to the stopwatch app—he would turn off the power too.

Taking a deep breath, Daniel flipped the power switch to the “on” position with one hand as he pressed “start” in the stopwatch app with the other. Keeping his finger over the power switch, he tried to look at the terminal, the power supply’s current readout, and the stopwatch at the same time, while smelling the air for smoke.

0:05: The terminal printed: Boot done, initiating self-test. No smoke. The power supply was showing a normal current draw.
0:11: Test 1 completed. Nominal current. No smoke.
0:17: Test 2 completed. Slight current fluctuations. No smoke.
0:25: Test 3 completed. The current was spiking up occasinally, but still good. No smoke.
0:32: With a beep, the microwave printed Test 4 completed. All tests passed. Ready.

With a sigh of relief, Daniel started reaching over to press “stop” on his phone when the microwave beeped three times and a new message appeared in the terminal: Received transfer: 0.93g.

Wait, what? Did the device just receive something from the future? Daniel wasn’t planning on doing any other tests today (reviewing the self-test results was going to take up most of the day) so this must have come from further into the future. Did someone after today somehow target this exact moment when the first time machine in the world was turned on for the first time?

Well, no point in waiting. Daniel popped open the microwave door. Inside, was a piece of paper with some writing. Picking up the paper, Daniel read it:

“Stop working with time travel. It will start a time war.”

The note was written in his own hand. On his notepad paper. The impressions of yesterday’s to-do list were visible in the paper under the writing.

Confused, Daniel grabbed his notepad and wrote the same message on the top sheet. Then he tore off the sheet and compared it to the one that came out of the microwave. The two were identical down to the tear marks and the creases in the paper.

Daniel sat there, trying to process what he was seeing. Did… Did he send this? No, not yet. But he must be about to send it, otherwise the pieces of paper wouldn’t look identical. Obviously, the machine worked, and obviously, something disturbing must have happened for it to produce this specific message. Well, no point in waiting, might as well close the time loop now. With his heart beating increasingly faster, Daniel put the message he had just written into the microwave and closed the door. He’ll need to send it back. But how far back exactly? Right, the stopwatch was still running. Daniel glanced down at his phone; it was still counting up: 1:10, 1:11, 1:12…

The startup sequence had finished at 0:32, and it must have been another second or two before he received the message. Maybe send it fifty seconds back? Typing in “0:50” on the microwave dial pad, Daniel waited for the timer to reach 1:24 and pressed “Start”. The microwave beeped twice and the terminal printed: Sent transfer: 0.93g. After popping the door to make sure that the message was really sent, Daniel turned off the power supply, stopped the timer (it showed 1:31) and stared at the paper that he received a minute ago.

What the hell just happened? A time war? This certainly didn’t seem like a joke that he’d pull on himself, and it didn’t seem plausible that on the first pass through the time loop he randomly decided to write those exact words. He certainly wasn’t planning it two minutes ago. If there really was a time war, how did it start? How did it land on this time loop? For that matter, which side did he help just now when he sent the message back to himself? And did he just win the time war or lose it?

Oh well, what’s done is done. Daniel crumpled up the message and tossed it into the bin under the desk. Then he picked up the notepad with one hand, the coffee with another, and headed back upstairs to the kitchen.

So the time travel was obviously out of the question. What should he try next? Neural networks seem fun. Maybe he should try something with those. Like maybe using them to control model rockets.