There have been so many tales about time traveling that I figured that I might as well get into the game. Now, there are at least two ways of treating time travel. One way is to treat time travel as something that can change history, as in Back to the Future. Another way is to treat time travel as just a somewhat nonlinear part of the natural order of time, as in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Some stories make it seem as if the nature of time travel is one way, but it turns out to be the other way. Anyways, here are the elements of my story.

Grace Lee might have been an ordinary girl from Los Angeles. She had an annoyingly common name, had an ordinary family, and had an ordinary upbringing in Koreatown. She would start learning piano at age six and Taekwondo at ten. She would be a pretty smart student in school. She would remain a devout Catholic, though not always a stickler for the rules. She would grow up to be a seemingly ordinary woman, albeit relatively successful. She would drop out of college to join the army for three years until an injury gets her discharged. She would return to college, majoring in chemistry. She would start doing some mild investing in stocks and some of the money to fund a project that would later turn into a small company. She would get married, have two children, have two grandchildren, and live to see the eldest of her five great-grandchildren before dying at age 100. Yet, there was one thing that threatened to overshadow everything in her life. From the day she was born, she was able to travel through time.

Now, of course, like any time traveling story, there are rules. In this story, there are rules that get slightly relaxed (or more complicated) as Grace gets older. First: when she is young, she can travel backwards and forwards in time, but she can only return to the moment from when she traveled, so it appears as if she had never left. Second: has total control over where and when she goes, but when she is young, she can travel only to other moments of her life when her other self is alone or with other iterations of herself. In other words, there can be times when there are ten Grace Lees in a single place as long as no one notices them. Third: while she can take any object through time that she can carry and can do anything to herself, her other self, or whatever else in the vicinity, when she is young, everything in that other time (except for the memories of her other self) reverts to how it was before, as if she had never been there. If these rules make no sense to you (and I have not quite worked out all potential logical loopholes), that is only because you did not have to live with them from birth. Grace has to navigate these restrictions since birth. They get somewhat relaxed when she is eleven, even more relaxed when she is twenty-two, almost completely gone when she is thirty-four, and completely gone when she is forty-five and a half or 40,000 hours after she first got the ability. Any other restrictions that she puts on herself (never travelling past the point of her own death) are simply choices that she makes.

It turns out that the reason that these rules were in place is to keep her abilities contained and manageable when she is young, so no one else gets affected as she learns to control them. Any mistakes that she makes or antics that she causes does not have lasting consequences. It also turns out that the ability to travel through time is from some sort of serum made by the small company that mid-twenties Grace had founded and middle-aged Grace injected into newborn Grace shortly after passing the 40,000-hour threshold. Got that?

The nature of time travel in this story is mostly fixed, but not completely. It is implied that there may have been other time travelers, but they were considered crazy, died quickly from diseases, put away for spreading diseases, or simply did something that negated their own existence. Grace herself occasionally tries to force a paradox (particularly as a teenager) by doing something that her past self explicitly remembers not doing or not doing something that her past self explicitly remembers doing. Yet, there is always a cloudy section of her memory that kind of matches her memory of her actions with her actual actions. She can often sense traces of a paradox (especially when she realizes that there are habits and pieces of information that her younger self picks up from her older self without any other influence), but it always seems as if destiny has patched it up. Grace tends to stop trying to mess with the remembered history as she gets older, but there is always the niggling thought that she should be doing more; that maybe other iterations of her may have tried doing more and that the cosmos reset itself in retaliation.

I will freely admit that my inspiration for this series of brain farts is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I enjoyed the book (not the movie), though there were some annoying and troubling aspects of it. While The Time Traveler’s Wife dealt a lot with absence, lack of control, loneliness, and loss, my story deals a lot with the idea of coping with inevitability and how much control people have over their destinies and identities. While the time traveler in The Time Traveler’s Wife tried to avoid learning about the future for the most part, Grace cannot help but learn about the future and teach her past self about what is to come. There are times when she keeps certain things from her past self and she may outright lie about the future on rare occasions. Yet Grace is almost always curious about her future and wants to know all that she can. And by almost, I mean that she gets kind of mopey at sixteen and doesn’t want anything to do with her older selves. The only reason why she chooses not to travel past the point of her own death once that becomes possible is because she will allow her serum (at that point, it is no longer a serum) to be used on other people, but does not want her experiences to be influenced by those of others, since she considers herself to be the original subject.

Baby Grace cannot communicate with anyone what she is going through, not even with a slightly older version of her baby self. Yet, because of the limitations of her abilities at that time in her life, her older selves are able to maintain a presence in her life that seems normal to her. And, since she cannot tell anyone yet, no one knows. She does not quite understand the concept of secrecy by the time that she is able to form sentences, but everyone in her life considers her talk about “Old Grace” and “Baby Grace” to be either an imaginary friend or someone else named Grace, since there are a few in the community. Eventually, she shuts up about it to other people, but this is where she starts getting anxious about the secret and a bit of shame over being weird. Her older selves (which can sometime mean a few minutes in the future) frequently teach her things; coaching her on what to say, how to act, and basically how to prevent people from thinking that she is completely crazy, even if she starts to suspect that she is crazy. They also tell her what is going to happen, who is going to do what, what she is going to do, and how she is going to feel about it. While, again, she occasionally tries to fight what she knows about the future, she ends up going through the motions more often than not.

As she grows up, her life has been pretty much dictated to her by her future selves: the friends that she makes, how she does her homework, her first period, her first real boyfriend, her awkward first sexual experience, dumping her boyfriend, graduating, going to college, dropping out to join the army, getting half of her left arm blown off, meeting her second real boyfriend at the Veteran’s Hospital, investing in stuff that gets real money, using the money to start a company with an esoteric long-term project with a high school classmate, helping her friend start up a website that tells the future, getting married, having kids, struggling to raise those little brats, struggling to keep the company from crossing the line of legality, going back in time without restrictions, using her time traveling abilities to fight terrorism and other crime for real, getting her arm fully fixed for her fiftieth birthday, settling down when she becomes a grandmother, using her abilities in more indirect manners, slowing down physically when she is in her late 80s, starting to lose her memories in her early 90s, become immobile in her late 90s, and finally dying when she is 100. By the time that she enters elementary school, she has been told most of this, though some details may be left out she may not understand the significance or reasons for many of them. Going through life pretending that she does not know pretty much everything that will happen has become second nature for her.

What does not quite become second nature at that time, however, is effectively hiding the moments when she travels somewhere and comes back. While no one can see her go anywhere, they can see her suddenly twitch, which she can do a lot if she travels frequently during one period. She can also lose track of what was going on in that moment or seem to be spacing out at times. More importantly for Grace, she has trouble living in a moment. If she gets bored or scared or nervous, she sometimes instinctively goes elsewhere to bother her older self or younger self, who may remember being bothered or have been warned about it. This may stave off the moment of boredom or fear or nervousness, but she always has to return to it. And, sometimes she returns with a different attitude than when she left. She eventually learns to control this better as she gets older, but sometimes she just does not care.

Throughout her life, Grace has interacted with various versions of herself. At any moment, she can be with versions that are a few seconds older and younger as well as versions that are several decades older and younger. As a result, her concept of self and identity are skewed. She has trouble seeing herself as a singular person, since there are so many times in her life where she is not. Many people change and evolve during their lives and sometimes do not even recognize the person who they once were. Grace sees how she was and how she will be, but sometimes cannot relate these other people who are supposed to be her. There are versions of her who do not particularly like other versions, and they interact only out of necessity.

Her skewed sense of self and the self-contained nature of her time traveling abilities often means that she has little fear of acting reckless without regard to consequences. Between her rebellious teenage years and her joining the army, she is able to seriously wreck herself multiple times and emerge unscathed. She can get seriously drunk when she is all by herself and avoid hangovers if she so wishes. She does all sorts of drugs and avoids even the mental side-effects. Much of this is rebellion against her future selves, whom she considers to be more controlling than her own parents.

Her older selves try to keep her under control as best as they can, but she does not listen to them. Maybe she knows that they are right, but she is not having any of it, and they know exactly the limits of their efforts. The push and pull between the teenage Graces and the older Graces come to a head when the older Graces force teen Grace to dump her High School boyfriend with the explanation that he is not the one. Teen Grace gets extremely hostile and theatrical, wishing she were dead. So older Grace takes a knife and slashes Teen Grace’s throat and stands there as her younger self bleeds out. While something like this would have ended any normal person’s life, Grace is not a normal person. Instead of wiping the older Grace out of existence, teenage Grace comes back to life right when older Grace goes back to her own time. Older Grace comes back and allows Teen Grace to stab her with the knife. This represents the beginning of a part of Grace’s life where she does serious (and normally fatal) harm to herself, at first out of despair and self-loathing, then out of kicks. Eventually, she combines this reckless behavior with her Taekwondo skills into some deadly sparring matches/memory tests. Imagine getting suffocated by a black garbage bag while having to fight off a dozen people wielding knives, but you know that you will win because you have seen the outcome through the eyes of all of your attackers already.

Grace is a bit of a wild 18-year-old in her first year in college, but the World Trade Center attack during the beginning of her second year brings all of that to a screeching halt. Yeah, this story goes there. It also touches upon the LA Riots of 1992, but anyways…Grace had known for years that she would join the army, but she never really knew why other than her father having been the military and most of her male ancestors having fought in wars. She is also extremely upset and confused as to why her older selves neither told her about this nor tried to stop it. At first she believes that she should join the army and use her abilities to know the future to help bring the perpetrators to justice. Her older selves try to dispel her of these idealistic notions, focusing on her using her time in the army as a chance to become truly disciplined by the time that certain parts of her abilities become unlocked. Young Grace may see the world as infinite possibilities and any opportunity not taken is a waste of potential. She still is resentful of the inevitability of destiny. Older Grace is more practical about such matters and is under fewer illusions about both the true limitations of her abilities and the consequences of going against the flow of history, even if she sometimes wonders how many iterations of herself there were that no longer exist.

Grace spends around two years of her life in Afghanistan, where she becomes close to her squad members (well, most of them) and is comfortable giving them hints that she is somewhat clairvoyant. She also manages to give them the heads up over some of the more troubling aspects in this War on Terror and how it will affect the world in general. This seems to help the soldiers around her to accomplish missions with minimal casualties for the most part, but it does not prevent her from getting her left arm seriously mangled in one particularly bad fight. She had anticipated this, however, and had long since become resigned to the notion that she was going to lose it, and all of that self-harm that she had put herself through as a teenager has made her feel psychologically ready for pain and physical loss. That is not to say that she feels no pain or negative feelings about having her arm amputated, but she was prepared for it.

It is in the hospital that she meets her future husband, a young marine named Esteban. She knew who was since she was six and knew when she was going to meet him. She also knew that he would be missing both of his feet when she first saw him. None of this prevents her from freaking out in front of her near-future self, who has to calm her down and (as usual) coach her on what to do and say. They go out quite a bit before Grace makes the confession that she is a time traveler. She is nervous, even though she knows intellectually that he will eventually be fine with it. Thankfully, her 47-year-old self is there to pick up the slack…and pick up Esteban and take him to three minutes in the past to spy on the couple having this conversation. As predicted, Esteban has his mind blown, but curiosity, wonderment, and admiration (and a hint of recognition) eventually overcome his initial shock. Ultimately, this brings them closer.

They end up going to the same college and the same grad school. At around this time, Grace starts investing in stuff. Nothing truly massive, but enough to make money without attracting too much unwanted attention. She manages to rope in a fellow chemistry student (using some crazy talk about destiny that she could not believe was going to work) into starting a long-term project around exploiting the small holes fluidity of time and space. Yeah, this whole part of the story is scientific nonsense, but it is a necessary type of scientific nonsense. Grace is pretty upfront about her time traveling abilities with those who eventually get brought into this project. She is also fine with admitting that this project is directly responsible for that ability and that truly being able to test the finished product will not be possible for almost twenty years. Some of that stretched out time is inherent in the nature of the product, as the rules and restrictions are things that she mapped out herself, having had twenty-four years to get familiar with them.

Grace also allows a few friends to know what happened, one of whom decides to set up a website where she tells the future. While late-twenties Grace is willing to play a role in the beginning, it is actually middle-aged Grace who participates, transporting different versions of her friend back and forth through time to coordinate.

By the time that Grace is thirty, she is married with a two-year-old son and a baby daughter. These are important parts of the story, but I admit that I am glossing over them here. Her life as a thirty-something is one of tested patience. Her struggles with raising her kids is compounded with the reality that the slow process of creating the time-space serum really is that slow. Throwing money at the project goes only so far, certain inventions do not fulfill the potential, and jumping the gun on the big project risks getting in legal trouble. Often, her employees question her about why this project is for her specifically and she never has a good answer. She can say that there were other subjects who caused havoc in the past or simply erased themselves from existence, but she has no evidence and does not know for certain.

Grace frequently indulges is group venting sessions with herself about her terrible kids and the frustrations of being the boss of a mysterious company. A group of thirty-something Graces even hold a venting session in the hotel room during Grace and Esteban’s honeymoon vacation, heaping scorn on their younger self as she yells at them for trying to undermine her happiness. They also roll their eyes at fifty-year-old Grace, who tries to assure them that everything is going to be okay and that life is certainly better than that of their younger selves or their parents. They know. They know. That is not what they need to hear now. She does, however, start seeking therapy, primarily to fulfill her role as a test subject. She also starts to type up essays and record videos about her methods of time travel for potential future travelers to learn from.

Grace in her early forties is a person of calm and quiet determination. The company, which has been branded as working on teleportation technology, is on track to finishing the serum. Though she has been coming down hard on her associates and subordinates, she has also become extremely open to them criticizing her and calling her out, and has been accepting ideas that might sound crazy and in direct contradiction to what she had said. Now, more than ever, she feels the need to go back and truly teach her younger self how to do things. The younger versions of Grace had no problem regularly interacting with her other selves and teaching younger iterations about things, but Grace in her early forties is particularly serious about it. It is actually this version of Grace who “kills” teenage Grace and then offers herself up to be “killed” in return. Although, to be honest, she is not totally noble in this regard. She interacts more with child Grace because she has some distance from her own kids at that age than she did in her thirties that she can take young Grace’s silliness in stride and negotiate with her. And she can say and do things to teenage Grace that she could never say or do to her own teenage kids, even if the temptation was strong. Additionally, her father has become sick with something that will kill him by the time he is eighty-seven. He is also starting to act odd around Grace, thinking that she reminds him of someone.

40,000 hours is the moment of truth. If the restrictions on her abilities are not lifted, she cannot travel back to her newborn self, since there will be people there to prevent her from traveling to that point of her life. If the serum doesn’t stay in baby Grace when the nearly 46-year-old Grace returns to her old time, then none of this will happen. Of course, there is no if here. Both of these things come true as they inevitably would. There was one thing, however, that she did not quite expect to happen. At least not in the way that she was prepared for.

Grace transports herself into the hospital where she was born, pretending to be a doctor. She sees her father looking at a roomful of newborn babies, which includes her newborn self. She goes over there and lies about being a visiting doctor, who just happens to be able to speak Korean. Her father is young at this time; at twenty-four, he is just over half her age, and even worse at speaking English than she remembers. Even with the preparation, she is a little thrown at how deferential he is acting towards her. He is treating her like an elder member of a community, with him being a newcomer. It is difficult for her to emotionally square the fact that he and her mother had immigrated just over a year earlier and the legalization process is a long way away. Still, her young father feels little inhibitions about unloading on her his fears and his guilt in a way that he has not with people he knows.

What older Grace had never told younger Grace was that her father had taken part in what would be an infamous massacre of students back when he was a soldier in the Korean Army in 1980. He doesn’t know if he actually killed anyone, but the guilt and fear caused him and his new wife to leave for America, whose role in said massacre was suspicious at best. His additional guilt at abandoning his parents (though it was lessened since he was the second son) was compounded by a fear that he would not be worthy of being the husband and father that he should be, to live a good life, to be deserving of his daughter. This explains a whole lot that Grace did not understand about her father when she was growing up. Why he seemed so haunted, particularly when he went to go protect his liquor store during the Rodney King Riots.

Grace makes her way inside the baby room after her young father leaves and goes to her newborn self. She hesitates to inject the serum; was this all really worth it? But it is simply a stalling mechanism. She knows that she will have done it anyways, so she does it, and goes back to her own time. Her employees note only that the container holding the liquid is empty, since it was full just a split second earlier in their eyes. So the project worked. Finally.

Thoughts of childhood and parenthood have started to take precedent in Grace’s mind after that talk with her young father. Her son is almost eighteen and will be off to college next year. She had known for a while that her daughter would decide to never get married or have children and would stick to that decision for the rest of her life, but the emotional significance of that is only hitting Grace now.

Grace thinks about her father, how he was back then and how he is at seventy. She considers seeing if she could go back to witness the massacre, but is too scared by what she might find out. She rationalizes that she might be tempted to interfere too much with what happened that day, which would lead to bizarre consequences. Whatever the reason, she does not go. She will not have gone anyways. What she does do, however, is go back to the Rodney King Riots. She ends up right around the spot where the liquor store her parents owned was, and where her thirty-four-year-old father was on the roof with a rifle. Determined to protect what was left of her father’s soul, Grace grabs rioters one by one (easy when she can duplicate herself) and transports them a few blocks away.

Between ages forty-seven and sixty-two, Grace goes around inserting herself into conflicts and basically acting like a superhero. While she may not quite have the physical abilities that she had when she was in her early twenties (though she is still relatively fit), she makes up for it in just how well she controls her ability to time travel, and what rules she sets in place for each time that she travels. Still, she does not bring about world peace or solve world hunger; she knows that she cannot do any of that. Well, that is not exactly true. She still does not quite know why she cannot; she just knows that she does not. There is still a sense of frustration there are problems that seem fixable for her that destiny denies her. But, she has pretty much made peace with both this limitation on her actions and the limits of her ability to understand why they are in place. She keeps these thoughts secret from her younger selves, figuring that they need assurances instead of more confusion.

After the birth of her granddaughter and the imminent death of her father, Grace decides to cool it with the fighting, and settles for more passive ways of solving problems, which was always the plan anyways. Some of it is that she has been slowing down a bit, but it is mostly due to her worrying that the path that she had been going down a road worse than the one her father or any of her ancestors had gone down. She finally does go back to the days of the massacre to see her father as a young man, and while she does not actually stay to see whether he actually did kill anyone, this experience sends her into a deep bout of self-doubt, as she ponders whether she her existence was made possible only by over a century of mortal sin and whether she is worthy of life itself, let alone this lifetime of responsibility that she had so proudly bestowed upon herself. She prays for the soul of her dying father, caring not what happens to her own.

During her seventies, Grace becomes more focused on the notion of mortality. Her mother is on her way out and Grace feels the need to take care of her as well as her own future self. Previously possessive over the direction of the company, Grace steps down from her leadership position, but maintains her position as the test subject and continues to demand enforcement of her rules regarding how and when the time traveling technology can be used on others.

Much of Grace’s eighties is a time of fatalism and preparation. She knows that it is only a matter of time before her mind gives way and she is on the lookout for any slip beyond the usual potential paradox patch-up. She has long since stopped wondering about changing the past or future, and now is focused on making the best use of her mind while she can. Most of her time travel is to the future, where Grace is almost completely unconscious. Eighty-something Grace knows that the cause of her impending sickness (and whether it is related to either her time-traveling activities or to the serum itself) will not be solved during her lifetime, but she tries to understand as much as she can.

Grace’s final decade is one of peace, at least for her. Her younger selves spend quite a bit of time in this period, taking care of her and helping to prepare the company to reveal its true nature to the world and pave the way for future time travelers.

Grace’s final day is actually her 100th birthday. It is actually not certain how long she theoretically could have lived beyond this day, but she had been unconscious for eight years and had decided long ago (or not so long ago) that it was time. Multiple versions of Grace are present; it has become a bit of a tradition in her life to go there every five, ten, or twenty years just before her birthday, to see her children, grandchildren, and her great-granddaughter. Her younger selves are a bit confused and uncomfortable, while her teenage representative finds the whole thing to be rather creepy and morbid, but Grace has gotten used to it by the time she is twenty. Her family bids her and her past selves a final goodbye, ninety-year-old Grace pulls the plug (it is not a literal plug), 100-year-old Grace dies, and all of the other Graces go back to where they were.

So…that is the story in a nutshell. Well, I suppose that I could have been even more concise, but there are certainly more half-formed ideas in my head that I did not put down here. Naturally, this story would be utterly sprawling and the frequent time jumps may make following the plot difficult. Honestly, I feel like this would be an interesting story, but I am not sure how acceptable it would be to contemporary audiences. For one thing, there are several sections of the story where Grace’s behavior could match up with those of a traditional antagonist or outright villain. She tries to control the mind of a young child, even if that child is her past self. It is never entirely clear, even to her, to what extent her emotional connection to people and ideas are influenced by pressure from her future selves. She can be subtly and not-so-subtly manipulative towards people in order to have things go her way. She can sometimes be outright cryptic when she does not care about convincing them to do something, reasoning that it is already determined whether they will side with her or not. Her means of disciplining herself can come across as abusive, and some of her actions towards other versions of herself could be considered murder if she actually stayed dead. For a stretch in her life, she commits hundreds of acts of violence upon others in the name of God. At certain points later in life, she has little problem with traveling to the same point in time to impress, intimidate, and outright attack people, looking like a group of clones with a hive mind. She builds up a secretive company dedicated to ethically questionable science. She occasionally acts cynically dismissive of both free will and the practicality of true justice. She can act arrogant and petty even towards people whom she supports, and she can seem unpredictable when it comes to accepting or rejecting ideas, though she will often put aside personal feelings when it comes to those decisions. In fact, she has the tendency to dodge ultimate responsibility for her decisions as well as end up doing things that she does not really want to do by convincing herself that these things will already have been done. She can alternate between bouts of extreme existential guilt and periods of near-sociopathy that people within her family and close circle of friends have to accept.

With all of that said, how could this sprawling story about a person very troubling characteristics make for a comprehensive and engaging narrative about faith, fate, feelings, free-will, and identity that is actually worth telling? Well, I don’t know. And that is why I don’t write stories.

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