Richard sat on the foot of Stephen’s bed while Stephen was getting dressed. She wore an uncertain expression, and that was certainly how she felt inside. She couldn’t see Stephen’s face, but she knew he felt both a little elated and a little betrayed.
“I need to explain why,” Richard blurted out suddenly. Stephen did not respond immediately, so she continued. “I know I talked about leaving this place for a year, and I had already packed my things, but Dyan Moore talked to me and… she’s letting me run a new project.”
The Dyan at the desk did not look surprised at all at the appearance of a second her standing at the door. “Welcome,” she told her other self. “Sit down next to dear Richard over here.”
“Will do,” said the Dyan at the door (Dyan in the chair, now).
“Honestly,” the Dyan at the desk told the Dyan in the chair. “I had completely forgotten I was going to use such a dramatic way to convince her to lead the project.”
“You hadn’t forgotten; I’m your future self, actually. So you didn’t know I was going to do it in the first place.”
“Ah, that makes sense. So I guess I’ll get to relive this conversation sometime in the future, barring time travel shenanigans, so I should take notes of what you say.”
“Ha, that’s what I thought at first. I decided to wing it, though.”
“Ahem.” Richard coughed, loudly enough to capture the attention of the two Dyans.
“What? You’re doing what?” Stephen asked. He stopped dressing and sat at the foot of his bed next to her. “You didn’t tell me Dr. Moore was involved. I didn’t even know she was here at the facility.”
“She found me yesterday morning and talked to me for a bit.” Richard knew not to divulge any specifics about Dyan or the project. She also knew that Stephen was going to be very suspicious of anything she said.
“And that one chat was able to convince you to discard the plans you’ve been making for like, since before I first got here?”
“Simply put, yes, it was.”
“I don’t believe it. There has to be something else here.”
“Sorry, that’s all there is.”
“You want to explain it to her, or do you want me to?” the Dyan at the desk asked.
“Go ahead, you’ve deserved it,” the Dyan at the chair said. “I’m mostly here for emotional support.” She raised her right hand and let M’tsargh’i crawl onto it.
“Okay then.” The Dyan at the desk turned to Richard. “Obviously, we already have cloning technology, but we are not advanced enough to perfect gene expression to the point of identical human cloning, as you probably know.”
“You already said ‘future self’, Dyan,” Richard said. “And with all due respect, I know what time travel is.”
The Dyan at the desk spun around her chair a couple times and stopped it by grabbing onto her desk. “Well, that takes care of a lot of exposition I didn’t want to go over. Yeah, we have time travel at ISRFA.”
“I have no idea how you accomplished this, let alone accomplished it without revealing it to the world. Do you not know how time travel could change the scientific world?”
“Of course; that’s why this project exists in the first place.”
“So if you’re going to stay, then…”
Richard realized what Stephen was about to say and put her index finger up to his mouth. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I know what you’re trying to say.” She hesitated; it’s not like she wanted to go anywhere with this, but she still felt bad about it, But she knew that, with the workload and secrecy of the project, she would barely see him anyway, so it didn’t matter. “But no, I don’t think it can happen, honestly.”
“I was going to ask if you needed help unpacking, but alright then.” He stood up and walked over to the sink, where he started to brush his teeth. He was obviously hurt, though there was not much else Richard could tell him.
“You know what? Maybe I’m wrong,” she said suddenly.
“I’m going to tell you the specific details about this project,” the Dyan at the desk began. “I would like if you did not interrupt, because keeping my dramatic flow here will really sell my pitch to you, at least I hope so.” Richard nodded, though slightly confused. “The entire purpose of this research facility, out in the middle of an icy uninhabited wasteland, has been to house my latest project. It has no specific name, because it is nothing less than the culmination of my decades long search for scientific knowledge. Giving it a title would imply that all the work we have accomplished beforehand is part of something separate, when it’s not.
“How am I so far. Good? Good. We learned how to terraform on massive scales across previously-inhospitable terrain. The purpose for that was so that I could create a living space for the massive ecosystem that is to live inside the walls of this facility. Right now, this ecosystem is segregated, with experiments trapped in zoo-like captivity, but the ultimate goal is to destroy those barriers and let our experiments run free.
“I want an ecosystem that will be able to eventually thrive on this newly-transformed continent of Antarctica; in about five-hundred years, it will become habitable due to the irreversible tides of global warming, and we will take advantage of that. I not only want these species to thrive, I want them to evolve. I want to be able to see evolution in action, to be able to see the exact moment a species becomes sapient, and to cherish that.”
“But if you have time travel, then can’t you just go back–”
“I said no talking, please,” the Dyan at the desk interrupted. “Damn, I forgot where I was going now. Thanks, Richard.”
“No, I understand. You’re going to be extremely busy with this new project, and you probably had to sign a hundred NDAAs in order to be able to work on it, right?” Stephen said, mouth full of toothpaste. He still seemed upset, though he was completely right. “Though that’s not the real reason you’re saying all this.”
“It is!” Richard threw her hands in the air. Then lowered them slowly. “Partly. I didn’t think, two nights ago, that I was going to actually… stay, do you get it?”
“Yes, I ‘get it,’” he said, making quotation marks with his fingers.
The Dyan at the chair, silent for a while now, suddenly stood up. “I’m going to tell you something I learned from someone much wiser than myself, when asked about this very same subject. That person was my future self, of course.
“You say that we could just as easily study the past as we could study the future. But the past is gone; it’s dead. In studying the future, we can create the future. Through the most ambitious scientific experiment of all time, we will be able to take life… and make it new.”
“So you want to play God.”
Richard stood up as well. “If I get to be director of this project, I’ll join it this instant.”
The Dyan at the desk banged the desk with her fist. “Holy shit, I’m so glad you said that. I mean, I knew you were going to join, but, man, that nagging doubt was intense.” She shook Richard’s hand. “Thank you so much. You’re really the best one for the job, honestly. You’ll do great.”
The Dyan who was at the chair became the Dyan at the door again as she started to leave the office. “My work here is done, I think. I’ll see you in the present, Richard.” And with that, she was gone. Then she came back in. “Oh, M’tsargh’i was still on my arm. Sorry.” She put M’tsargh’i on the carpet next to her feeding bowl, then she was gone once again.
“I’m sorry if I let my emotions get the better of me,” Richard told Stephen. “You are a good friend, really.”
Stephen turned the faucet on and washed out all the foamy toothpaste in the sink. “Yes, I know that.”
“Are you sure? You seem upset.”
“I’m not upset. I’m glad you’re staying, because you are one of the best workers at this facility, and probably the best person ever to lead something as high-priority as… whatever this project is.”
Stephen slipped on a button-up shirt and began combing his hair, along with his way-too-short-to-bother-grooming beard.
Several moments of silence passed. “Uhh… I guess I’ll go to work now,” Richard said. She stood up and left Stephen’s living quarters. Her cheeks felt like they were on fire.