Retrocausality is a thought experiment addressing the question, “Can the future affect the present, and can the present affect the past?”. It is any of several hypothetical phenomena or processes that reverse causality, allowing an effect to occur before its cause. It often refers to philosophical considerations of time travel, though the two terms are not universally synonymous.
She wakes up in a daze and waits. The date and time flash before her eyes, reassuring her that she is back in the present once again. She stretches, her body recoiling against her, begging her to lie down and get some actual sleep. She laughs at the reality she lives in. She can’t even recall the last time she truly slept.
* * *
Elle is what you call a sleep traveler and has been one for over twelve years. She is one of the few in the world emboldened with the gift. When it first happened, she had thought they were just dreams. She confessed to her parents that she thought something was happening to her and begged them to keep watch for a night. They had reluctantly agreed, the evidence in their eyes showing they believed their only daughter to be going insane. Their minds quickly changed, however, when they watched her vanish right before their very eyes.
When Elle finally returned to them a mere three hours later, her parents were shocked to hear that, to Elle, she had been gone for days. They panicked, resorting to research to see if anyone else was like Elle. After days of finding nothing, her father stumbled upon a doctor who mentioned ‘Sleep Travelers’ in a study he conducted. Though the doctor was a continent away, her father booked tickets for all of them and they left the next day.
Dr. Bruge had immediately put them at ease. He had more information regarding Elle than they could have dreamed and even introduced them to others like her. She had a gift, he called it. There were fourteen sleep travelers in the world that he knew of, making Elle the fifteenth. They could not control where they went but, wherever they were sent, there was a task they were supposed to complete. They would be sent back over and over until it was finished. He urged Elle to explore wherever she was sent, that the task would be revealed to her if she kept her eyes open. Elle had been terrified but excited about this new gift, eager to know what tasks she would have to complete. Dr. Bruge implanted a chip in her that would help her keep track of time, flashing the date in front of her eyes as soon as she awoke.
They had traveled home in silence, anxiously awaiting what would come next.
* * *
It was hard to believe that was so long ago. She had completed thirty-two tasks since then, ranging from the mundane document retrieval to the ever exciting disaster prevention. She had thwarted twelve terrorist attacks on her own country, a feat which no one in the world would ever know. The sleep travelers’ identities were a secret in order to keep them safe. There was no way to know what the world would do for their gift.
Elle gets up from her bed, her body fighting her every inch of the way. Her most recent travels itch the back of her mind. For four nights, she has searched for the task but has failed each and every time. This had never happened before. She has always discovered her task by the second night. Something feels off this time. She can feel it in her gut.
The day drags by at a snails pace. She attempts to enjoy lunch with a friend but her mind wanders to the prior night’s events. She’s missing something. It’s standing right in front of her each night but she can’t put her finger on it. Night finally comes and she gratefully crawls into bed, knowing she must decipher the task tonight, whatever it may be.
* * *
She awakens in the same alley from the past nights. She already knows where she is. Chicago. 2023. Never knowing how much time she has before she’s pulled from the past, she takes off from the alley, scouring the streets for clues she may have missed the past couple of nights. Hours pass in a blur with nothing to show from her search. She sits down, forcing herself to rest. It isn’t long before the hairs stand up on the back of her neck. She’s close. Her eyes fall on a store across the street and she takes off. Upon bursting through the door, she finds herself in a shop filled with clocks. She smiles.
Of all places….
She hears mutterings coming from the back of the store and moves closer. A man emerges, clothed in all back, and welcomes her. Her mind erupts, the sign that the task is before her. Images and words explode before her eyes. She gasps in horror.
This has never been asked before. She can’t possibly do this.
She races out of the store and back to the alley where she arrived. She sits, urging her mind to relax so she can return to her time. It doesn’t take long. She awakens back in her room, realizing the bed has been soaked through in sweat. She bolts out of bed and to the nearest phone, knowing she must call Dr. Bruge at once to explain what has happened. He’ll know exactly what to do.
He’ll tell her it’s okay.
He’ll tell her she must have misunderstood.
He’ll tell her she won’t have to kill him.
to be continued…