Browsing the internet late at night, tired and bored, A came across an ad for a free time machine, delivery in 15 minutes flat or your money back. Laughing, he clicked the link and entered his address, and 15 minutes later there was a knock on his door. “Sign here, here, and here.” A signed. “Anything else you need from me?” “Nope, that’s it. Have a nice night, and don’t rape yourself!” The deliveryperson loped down the sidewalk, back to the delivery van, and drove off.
“Hmm,” mused A. He had an awful idea. If he ever wanted to do it, now was the only time he could do it. If you knew that you had a time machine, you would probably determine whether or not it was okay for your future self to have sex with your past self, and vice-versa. But if you didn’t know that a future you had a time machine, you might not have thought about such things. A knew that A hadn’t ever thought about having sex with himself. This set the stage for A’s awful, horrible, terrible idea.
The delivery-driver’s casual remark was the trigger for the ensuing mess, but let it be known that the person who was responsible for what followed was A.
A set the controls, flipped the switch.
A was in the entry of his house. From the sounds upstairs he was also in the bedroom, watching the internet. A decided to call his present self B. A walked through B’s house, carefully collecting some items without making a sound, and made his way up B’s staircase, ducking down as B crossed the hall to use the bathroom. A hid behind the door of B’s bedroom, ready to ambush B.
B returned, pausing for a moment to close the door to keep the cat out of his bedroom. Then A jumped him. B fell backwards, knocking himself unconscious against the bed. A, fully in the throes of a plan that seemed inevitable, set about tying B to the bed, before bringing B back to consciousness.
What transpired between B and A in that room is not for us to read, or for this author to write about. But before he fell asleep for the night, A untied B, and locked B out of the bedroom.
B, still in shock and wondering what had occurred, went downstairs to make a mug of tea. He tripped over A’s time machine, lying carelessly at the bottom of the stairs. A’s time machine’s charge was spent, but B googled the manufacturer’s label, encountered the ad, and ordered a time machine of his own. When it arrived, the delivery person made the same remark before driving off: “Have a nice night, and don’t rape yourself!”
B, having been raped by a timeclone from the future, and having seen popular fiction accounts of time travel, now believed himself to be stuck in a loop that required him to go back in time and rape himself, or else risk paradox.
So he did.
After piecing together A’s actions over the loop, B set the time machine and entered C’s timeline and house. He was a few steps to the side of where A had landed in B’s apartment, but you’re reading about the early wobbles of a time loop, and in the early wobbles the events are not yet self-reinforcing.
B collected the same items that A had used, and waited for C to use the bathroom. Hiding behind C’s door, B ambushed C, again knocking C out on the bed. Despairing inside but putting up an act to mimic A, B did to C everything that A had done to B. If B’s heart wasn’t in it, B himself didn’t notice. But maybe C did.
Before B fell asleep, he untied C. C went downstairs, feeling much the same as B did, and tripped over B’s time machine just like B had tripped over A’s. He found the same ad, and the same delivery driver arrived, and said the same thing. “Have a nice night, and don’t rape yourself!”
So when C went back in time to rape D, C felt much the same as B felt. But the differences between A’s performance and B’s performance were as great as the differences between B’s performance and C’s performance, and so when D goes back to E’s apartment, D decides to change the script.
D has seen the same popular fiction time-travel narratives that C, B, and A have seen. D knows that a protagonist with sufficient narrative behind him can break the loop and escape Groundhog Day.
In D’s visit, D calls out to E the moment he arrives. And E is quite confused by this new self. D explains what C had done, and E confirms that what D had done in not raping E was the right choice, thank you. D hurriedly explains his theory of narrative power breaking the hold of the time loop, and references a movie that they have all watched, and they sit down to talk over how to break the time loop.
E proposes making the smallest of changes. Keep the sex, but make it consensual now. And D consents, and so D and E have a go in the bedroom, and D tells E about how to order a time machine before he falls asleep.
E orders a time machine, and when the driver says “Have a nice night, and don’t rape yourself!” E waves and shouts, “Thank you! I won’t!” and the driver laughs before climbing back into the truck.
E goes back to talk to F, just to make sure that the loop truly is broken, and explains E’s story and D’s story, and how they’re going to break the loop. And listening to E’s story, F asks if E would like to have some more sex, and so they do. And, being polite, E tells F how to order a time machine.
F goes back to talk to G, just to make sure that the loop truly is broken, and explains E’s story and D’s story, and how they’re going to break the loop. And listening to E’s story, G asks if F would like to have some more sex, and so they do. And, being polite, F tells G how to order a time machine.
G goes back to talk to H, just to make sure that the loop truly is broken, and explains E’s story and D’s story, and how they’re going to break the loop. And listening to E’s story, H asks if G would like to have some more sex, and so they do. And, being polite, G tells H how to order a time machine.
And by now you see that they’ve established a stable loop. The earlier wobbles of the loop have been resolved, thanks to the fundamental goodness of the character at the heart of this story.
The moral of the story is that a cunning prank is only a prank if the prankee laughs afterwards. B didn’t laugh. What A did to B, and B did to C, and C did to D, are all horrible things.
The person with true courage was D, who believed he risked paradox in order to prevent infinities of further suffering. He didn’t, but bravery isn’t about what you do in the real world. It’s about what you do in your mind.