'Course, sometimes a job'll be more 'bout profit than fun. Sometimes a client may wanna do the Universe's job for it, or least get the job done earlier. Tell ya one time, girl hired me ta take 'er back in time ta tell 'ersef things wasn't gonna work out with the guy she's with, and might as well just end it now, save everyone a lot of time an' grief later. See, she figured if they split up back then, they could least stay friends, but when she ended up breakin' it off years in the future, things'd gotten so complicated they just couldn't even manage friendship. Well, I guess in a way, then, that'd hurt the Universe. Any kinda love annoys it, whether romantic or familial or friendly, or whatever. So maybe savin' a friendship was a way've hurtin' the Universe, after all. Still, it caused some sufferin', too, and the Universe enjoyed that plenty.

Yeah, her earlier self trusted her future self, an' broke up with her boyfriend. An' they were both keen ta remain friends, sure. Still, the guy never knew why she'd done it- she gave some reasons, but he just couldn't understand 'em. Didn't make sense to 'im. She never told 'bout the visit from her future self. Funny thing is, he eventually came ta me ta take 'im back in time, to a point a few months before the break up. He sat himself down an' had a good long talk 'bout what he thought he needed ta do ta keep 'er happy, an' prevent the relationship from endin'.

Past him said he knew already what he had ta do, an' was tryin' his best ta do it. Future him said it wasn't good enough, she couldn't see it. Now, that second trip a mine inta this relationship, I was waitin' around fer him ta get back from talkin' ta himself, I was waitin' at a pub I sometimes go to, and ran into a friend a mine who knows what passes fer my real name, along with a few of my other names, includin' Tino Valens.

I was already sittin' in a booth, workin' on a Guinness, when he came up to me an' slid inta the seat across the booth. "Hey," he said. My close friends never call me by name at any meeting until I've let 'em know what name I'm goin' by at the moment, just in case there might be anyone around I don't want hearin' the wrong thing.

"Tino," I said.

"'Nother one a those, huh? Man, what a name...!"

"Fits. Amuses most clients of the type."

"Yeah. Anyway. When you at?"

"Complex. Was be 'bout five years hence, girl came ta me ta bring 'er back a few months from now ta end it with 'er boyfriend early, ta minimize the mess. This I got from lookin' inta my untime files when the boyfriend came to me about a year from now ta bring him now ta talk ta himself, try an' get him ta change enough she don't break with 'im. He don't know why she broke up. So, when'm I from? Damned good question."

"Let me pose a bet," he began. This was something he liked ta do. Hear a case sitch, figure two or more likely paradox effects, and bet on which he thought'd happen. Or, just bet on the opposite of whatever option you- that is, I- choose.

A waitress came up ta take his order. He asked fer a Sam Adams, an' as my own drink was almost gone, I ordered a Labatt.

He posed his bet. "Past him may try harder to be as she wants, and succeed, and she doesn't listen to future her when she shows up- if she shows up. Things eventually degenerate anyway, and they break up messily in the future, she goes back in time, and the poor kids are caught up in a causal loop. Hey, there are worse loops to be caught in than an eternity half the staggers of which you and your true love are together and at least part of that time blissfully so.

"Next possibility: he succeeds so well future her never falls out of love with him, never goes back in time, and they live happily for the rest of their days. You, of course, still receive payments from both of them, because you can cross timelines, one of which she payed you in- even if you have to wait a few years before she does. The her in the new timeline didn't, hasn't lost any money, so everybody's real happy. Except why'd he come to you this time? Will he have no reason to come to you, and will this mean he doesn't improve, so she comes, and another loop is caused? ...A side issue, of course, of no relevance to the bet."

"You, my friend, have the mind of a sci-fi fan." He looked offended, but I put up a hand fer a moment, an' explained, "I know, I tend ta talk 'em down, but I don't mean no insult, really. Truth, they're a pretty damn sharp lot. What I meant was, you can pretty quickly come up with all sorts of temporal possibilities an' just as quickly question them. Layer upon layer of complexities as baffle an' befuddle an' drive some quantum physicists mad, sci-fi types an' some folks such as yersef, come up with an' handle with the greatest of ease. The mind-boggling is obvious. Child's play. Hey, I took philosophy in college, an' one a the other students always sat around all session punchin' holes in the works a millennia of history's greatest philosophers. Professor loved the guy. Know what? I think the kid was an aspirin' sci-fi writer. Don't think he ever went anywhere though. Shame, that. World's always seemed ta me ta be set up so's some a the greatest minds are destined ta fail in life, despite their best efforts."

"Good thing fer people like you." He paused a moment. "...I meant, good thing for people like them that there's people like you. But coming to think of it, it's a good thing too, for people like you that there's people like them."

"Yeah, I guess. Anyway, look. Brilliant an' insightful an'... an' how their minds work... an' all... such minds don't always get reality. The real rules don't always seem ta make perfect sense ta either a brilliant scientific mind or a brilliant... uh... I guess fanciful, creative mind. I don't say that 'bout all such. Some may get through the whole gamut an' arrive at the truth, some may understand the truth when it's told ta them. Many others will just sit there, though, stubbornly complainin' that the truth don't make sense at all."

"The truth doesn't have to make sense. It's self-empowering, self-validating. It is what it is. People can refuse to believe it as long and hard as they like, but they can't change the truth from being the truth."

"Quite so," I said. "Now, about the truth at hand...."

"Let me guess: you go to him when he would have come to you, and tell him he has to go back in time and tell himself... um...." He frowned.

I smiled. "Tell himself what? His girlfriend hasn't told him why she doesn't want to be with him anymore, has she?"

He thought a few seconds more before his face brightened, and he said, "Ah, but suppose he already knows what needs changing, and he just has to tell himself to try harder to do so?"

With a sigh, I admited, "In fact, I think he does know, past him, that is. But that ain't what happens."

"So what does, pray tell?"

"In your first scenario, the loop is caused because in one timeline or another, both of future their actions work. Timeline A leads ta Timeline B leads ta Timeline C. Except that in effect, Timeline C is Timeline A." He began ta protest, but I stopped him. "Not technically, a course. Just in effect. Consider: what is the definin' element a Timeline A?"

"They break up in the future."

"Yeah, exactly. In Timeline B, they break up in the past. But that leads ta him comin' ta me so he can try ta create Timeline C, in which, at least in the first scenario..."

"They break up in the future," he said grudgingly.

"Okay. Now, the second scenario. Timeline A: they break up in the future. Timeline B: they break up in the past. Timeline C: they don't break up at all, so it is effectively as well as technically a new timeline. There's no loop. The rules say things don't like ta be changed. Sort of a law of temporal inertia; a timeline won't change unless acted upon by an outside force. One outside force causes Timeline B, another outside force causes Timeline C. In scenario one, a loop is created a circle, a perfect shape, with great power of its own. It's like a rock in the river a Time; the irresistable force flows around the immovable object. Essentially, they just agree ta disagree, ta ignore each other. But in scenario two, Timeline C is just another basically straight line, with maybe a mild meander to it. No loop. No more outside forces ta change the flow a time, no reason fer there ta be any outside forces. So because a the law of temporal inertia, the timeline doesn't change again."

"Okay, I see. Hey, now you explain it, it makes perfect sense to me. What kind of lame brain wouldn't get that?"

"Well, this may not be the perfect case for the point I was talkin' bout, but ya'd be surprised. Some a them are utterly enamored a causal loop paradoxes. It's like, some people, if their future self told 'em ta break up with the person they love, if they believe strongly enough in their own feelings, they'll refuse ta break up. They'll see it more as a challenge, an' talk ta their love, an' try harder'n ever ta make things work."

"Um, yeah... how, again, is the one like the other?"

"Stubbornness. Absolute certainty that yer right about somethin'. Yer right that yer in love an' belong tagether, or yer right that a causal loop would be formed. No one can possibly convince ya ta believe other than ya do. Tons a examples I could use, good an' bad. All sorts a prejudices, an' religions, an'... lotsa things. Anyway, lotta these sci-fi types are just in love with paradoxes."

"Uh-huh. Anyway... so either scenario could happen, right?"

"Oh, yeah. I'm sure others are possible too. Lotsa others. We could sit around drinkin' an' thinkin' up more scenarios, if ya like. Hey, maybe they both just keep comin' ta me over an' over, ta take 'em ta different points in time. Each time they come ta me from a different timeline, so they each only hafta pay me once, but I still get paid every time. Beauty, eh?" I said, an' finished off my blue.

"Supposing he doesn't succeed at all this time, and ends up killing himself?" my friend asked.

"Maybe she kills herself out a guilt."

"Maybe she goes back in time to stop herself from breaking up with him the first time-" he stopped, because the waitress had returned ta see if we wanted anythin' else. We both ordered Shakespeare stout. She left, an' he said, "What was I saying?"

I had a couple beers in me now, an' while I might still be able ta think a few big thoughts, especially havin' a certain inertia in that direction, simple things I had become slower at. I thought a minute, an' finally said, "Uhhhm... she went back in time ta stop hersef from breakin' up..."

"Right," he said, an' the waitress came back with our drinks. "Right, right, right... and, see, she sees herself talking to herself, and the three of 'em get into a catfight, see...." He stopped an' smiled, apparently visualizing. How he could visualize three versions of a person he's never even seen one of is beyond me, but anyway the waitress turned an' left in a disgusted li'l huff. I didn't blame 'er, frankly. I decided ta give my friend the benefit a the doubt an' blame it on the drink, though so far he'd only had one.

"Okay, man, whatever. That ain't what time travel's for." Although, I'm ashamed ta admit, just at that moment, I flashed on a girl I'd dated in high school, an' didn't see again till about fifteen years later, an' ended up spendin' about a week with... relivin' old memories, as it were. An' I remembered thinkin', a woman can tend ta look different in different stages a her life, an' look real good in several a them, in different ways, an' if a guy's lucky enough ta stay with her fer life, it could almost be like bein' with a different woman at each stage a life. Okay, at the time, that week I was with her again, I rationalized that it'd be only right that the woman likewise gets ta be with 'different men.' But I tell ya, that night in the pub, when I remembered that, the thought still made me feel kinda guilty. Well, maybe it wasn't so much the memory of the old thought, as it was the new one of gatherin' up the woman from her various stages ta be with one a you all at the same time. That was what I felt guilty about. Not that I'd ever do such a thing- not that I could- but just the thought... Well, I gave m'sef the same benefit of the doubt I was willin' ta give my friend. I was, after all, startin' my third beer.

They were tall beers, okay?

"Not at all what it's for," I said, shakin' my head, an' I started ta point my finger in his general direction an' wave it about a bit. "An' um another thing, lemme tell you, there's... um, the rules, see, an'... an'..." I didn't have a clue what I was meanin' ta say, but I felt a need ta talk.