Well, he thought, that was unlikely.
Patrick stared at the wonderful machine: a beautiful glowing door, floating in the middle of his basement, orbited by three, perfectly spherical balls, each infinitely blacker than the frequent thunderstorms that railed far above his house. Every few minutes, a spark of lightning would flash from the golden door and be swallowed whole by one of the rotating spheres. The device lit up the room, providing the only light in the grimy, windowless cellar. Patrick grinned happily, wiping his oil-drenched hands on his equally filthy jeans, although only after he had accidentally pulled his fingers through his hair.
“Awesome,” he said to himself.
“Well, yes, actually,” said a voice behind him. “It's certainly one of the prettier ones I've seen.”
Patrick jumped in fright and spun round, reaching for the spanner in his pocket. There was a figure standing in the doorway, illuminated by a faint light that emanated from the stairs behind him. The figure was dressed in a tired, grey suit and his head was covered in a wild tangle of pure white hair. He looked old and haggard.
“Yes, that's my hair,” said the man, while Patrick was staring. “And it's a damn sight better than yours.”
Patrick felt his own short crop of hair, which was firmly matted to his head with oil.
“Who on earth are you?” he asked, his voice uncharacteristically high. “What are you doing in my house?”
The older man fumbled in his suit pockets, eventually producing a small business card.
“I am the Universe's Paradox Guardian,” he said lightly. He peered inside his pockets once more, this time emerging with a crumpled piece of paper. “I've come to deliver you a Cease and Desist Order.”
“You must have the wrong person,” Patrick said.
“You are Patrick Hausenbeck, are you not?”
Patrick stared. “Look, what did you say your name was?”
“I do not have a name,” replied the man. “But you may call me the God of the Paradox. I like that.”
“I'm not calling you that.”
“Look, whoever you are, I'm kind of busy right now and you're trespassing, so please go away, or I'll have to call the police.”
The man seemed not to hear him. Instead he walked past Patrick and stood, admiring the time machine as it spun serenely on, oblivious to the intruder.
“Yes, yes, very clever,” he said, motioning to the orbs. “How long did it take you to think of that?”
“What?” asked Patrick, utterly bemused.
The man turned back around to face him. “You've built a time machine,” he stated simply.
“I...how did you...”
“It's my job to know,” the man replied curtly. “Now, I'm very sorry, Mr. Hausenbeck, but as I've already stated, I'm here to order you to cease and desist.”
“Who are you?” Patrick shouted, raising his hands in frustration.
“Mr. Hausenbeck,” the man replied, with some irritation. “I have already clearly stated that I am the Universe's Paradox Guardian.”
“Look...you. You must have a name. What am I supposed to call you?”
“I've already stated that --”
“I'm not calling you the God of the Whatsit.”
“Fine! For goodness sake, this job gets worse every year!” The man shook his head in resignation. “Just call me Elijah,” he said unhappily.
“Elijah,” repeated Patrick. “Why are you here?”
The man who was now called Elijah rubbed his thumbs against his temples.
“You've built a time machine,” he repeated. “Now, tell me what you plan to do with it.”
Patrick shrugged. “All right,” he agreed, his eyes lighting up with enthusiasm. “I'm going to go back in time and kill myself!” He grinned gleefully. “Think about it! If I kill myself in the past, I won't be alive in the future to go back in time and kill myself!”
Elijah nodded his head emphatically. “You'll have created a paradox,” he
“Exactly!” said Patrick, his face animated and excited. “Who knows what will happen? I'm experimenting with something beyond the realms of the universe!”
“That's just great,” replied the old man sarcastically. “Except I'm here to stop you.”
“Well it's just fine for all you crazed inventors to wander the universe thinking up ways to confuse it! You define paradoxes as things that seem like a contradiction but aren't. Have you ever stopped to think why not? Have you ever stopped to think about who's going to clean up your mess?”
“Well, I --”
“No!” shouted Elijah. “Of course you haven't! All of you, with your damn time machines, forever trying to glitch the universe! Tell me, have you really considered what happens when the universe throws up an Illegal Error?”
“The universe can produce Illegal Errors?” Patrick asked, confused.
Elijah waved his hands in the air. “It's a phrase!” he said, as he began pacing the floor with frustration. “The point is that neither of us really wants the universe to crash. I'm here to protect it against such eventualities.”
“You're employed by...the universe?” Patrick asked. He could feel another migraine coming on as he wondered how exactly he was going to remove this lunatic from his house.
“I'm part of the universe,” corrected Elijah. “In fact, I'm the universe's fail-safe. I'm the God of the Paradox!”
“Oh, really,” sighed Patrick. “While you're here then, can you tell me the meaning of life?”
The older man spluttered furiously. “Good grief, no!” he began. “That's way above my station!”
“Well you're not much use then, are you?” Patrick said. “At least the God of the Bible --”
“Oh, don't get me started on him!” Elijah interrupted. “That's the problem with these regional directors. You give them one planet to control and it goes to their heads. Now, can we please get back to the matter at hand? I need you to sign this document. It basically contractually obliges you to destroy this time machine and refrain from building any more in the future. You will be compensated to the tune of five extra years of life, non-negotiable.”
“I don't want more life!” Patrick shouted. “I want to kill myself! I've been dreaming of this my whole life!”
“Sorry,” said Elijah simply. “Never going to happen.”
“Well can I at least meet myself?”
“No! Do you remember meeting yourself in the past? Of course not. Because you didn't! That's another paradox!”
“What if I promise just to go into the future?”
“Look, Patrick,” Elijah sighed. “There is no way anyone in the universe is ever allowed to use a time machine. I'm sure you've seen countless films about time-travel in your life. It doesn't take a genius to realise that none of them make sense! Time-travel causes logical chaos with the laws of the universe. You go to the future, let's say you meet yourself. Then, when you come back to the present, you know where and when you'll meet yourself in the future, so you can change the meeting by not turning up. Paradox!”
“Stop saying paradox!”
“Look, Patrick. The only reason that paradoxes don't cause contradictions is because they're entirely theoretical. They never happen. And you know why they never happen?”
Patrick exhaled slowly, mournfully. “Because of you,” he said quietly.
“Exactly,” said Elijah triumphantly. “I resolve all paradoxes.”
“Well isn't that handy,” said Patrick tartly. “What a cop-out. Here I thought the universe was a realm of infinite possibilities and now I find it employing a Deus Ex Machina.”
“I am not the Deus Ex Machina!” Elijah replied. “Don't get me started on him...”
They stood, glaring at each other, as clouds gathered outside. Shortly, the rain began to fall, pounding against the corrugated iron roof. Patrick glanced upwards, listening to the dim sound of drumming on his house. A loud crack rippled through the sky. Elijah winced.
“Thunderstorm's brewing,” he muttered darkly. “Can we please just get this done?”
Patrick narrowed his eyes. “You're not taking this from me,” he whispered tightly.
“You don't have a choice!”
Patrick laughed. “Oh yes I do!” he shouted happily, and jumped into the machine.
Elijah sighed tiredly and flicked his fingers, killing the inventor in mid-air. Patrick's body cracked horribly into the cold, stone floor. Elijah winced again while the time machine continued to spin. He looked it over one last time, nodding approvingly, then waved his hands. The golden door ceased to glow and fell harshly to the ground, splinters flying in all directions. The black spheres gave one last shriek of annoyance before they too collapsed, bouncing away into the hidden corners of the room.
Elijah turned and headed for the stairs, but stopped in the doorway, surveying the cellar for the last time. The wreckage of the time machine was strewn across the floor and, in the middle, Patrick lay, perfectly still, looking for all the world as if he was sleeping.
“There you go,” Elijah muttered without humour. “You got to kill yourself.”
He turned away and began to climb the stairs.
“It's a shame,” he said to himself, ruffling his hair as he listened to the raging storm far above. “It was certainly one of the prettier ones.”