This science fiction story, set in the near future deals with the nature of time and who is actually running the universe.

You cannot easily disrupt the flow of time. It is like a river; it will always somehow reach its destination. You can ford it, block it or attempt to divert it, but in the final analysis it will end up where it is supposed to go. It is immutable. Some things are just meant to be.

 We believe that we create our own reality, communally or individually, by accident or intelligent design. We believe we are alone and unobserved, living our lives according to our own decisions and interactions. The truth is that this is almost certainly not so. We are always being watched and directed by someone, or something, whether we are aware of it or not.

For example, sometime in the mid 21st century, there was small space station, known un affectionately as the egg, due to it’s strange elliptical shape, orbiting 15 kilometres above the moon.  At this particular point in time, inside the egg control room an irreversible, but accidentally destructive process, was about to begin. A programme was being loaded into the moon base control centre computer. What had arisen out of boredom of a young man, taking his turn in the exile that enabled the lucrative mining operation below to continue, had become, to him, something more interesting. All the perpetrator had to do now was to press the button that allowed the final override. This would take control of the plant on the surface, updating and changing the operating systems, hopefully before anyone noticed, either on the moon or back at company headquarters. Until the predicted successful outcome of course.

 They were positioned on the dark side of the moon orbit so no trouble there, Seb thought.  Gary, with whom he shared the monitoring shifts, was off duty and asleep. Hopefully Mike running the operation on the ground will be too busy to notice the small changes that he had been inputting to allow the grand plan to go ahead. He had studiously ignored the hourly attempts to communicate with him. So, he took a deep breath, “Go go go, now or never, this will show them that I mean business.” By them, of course he meant the company bosses generally and in particular Miranda, his erstwhile immediate superior in the London office. She had been his nemesis, and he thought unusually one of his complete romantic failures.

 The complicated code had been loaded, he had only to press the button to enable. Once enabled the process would be irreversible. He had not heard or noticed the moon hopper shuttle docking. He just looked up, finger poised as Mike and his second in command burst through the door, their pressure suits still on apart from the helmets, which had been flung open.

 “Stop you fool, you don’t know what you are doing.” Mike yelled. But it was too late. With a wry smug smile Seb pressed down hard on the red button. He had a brief “Oh shit” moment as he watched the beginnings of a runaway melt down below. Luckily this did not last more than a nanosecond before they were vaporised, and the now unbalanced moon began its destructive and fatal plunge towards the Earth.

The watcher, known for our purposes as W, had also had an “oh shit” moment. If sighing was possible in such a being, it would have sighed.  Something approaching anger came and was dismissed instantly. “How did I let this happen?” He wondered. (He being a courtesy title, gender being irrelevant to such beings.) “The experiment was not finished, now I have to start again.” The prospect appalled him, he actually had better things to do. He considered the matter, “The problem is with the Free Will these specimens have, but no point in this experiment without it. Too much interference would negate the results, but perhaps some tinkering in the timeline would be acceptable.”

To start the experiment from the beginning would take too long, even for a being for which time had no special meaning. There was also the problem of other rouge elements which might appear. He could swirl it back a little through. Would it be as easy as just stopping him being born? This is always problematic in practice though. There are always unforeseen circumstances, unintentional consequences, which cannot be predicted, arising. He ran several alternative scenarios through his mind.  How did this idiot get here, what circumstances made him do it? Can I stop this particular genetic combination being formed, or the circumstances of him being able to perform the operation?   He decided to have a proper look at his timeline. Normally he did not take such a close interest in his specimens individually, but needs must.

 It initially showed nothing out of the ordinary for his type and gender. Sebastian’s grandfather, Sebastian senior, had been born in the dying days of the second world war. His father Cyril, a clever but relatively uneducated man, as many of his generation were, had blossomed in the opportunities afforded and had become a bomb disposal expert. Unfortunately, one last bomb had bitten back, leaving a pregnant widow who centred her life around her only child. Sebastian senior thus grew up as a pampered individual who was sure of his own importance, and superiority. This attitude was passed on in due time to his father and Sebastian himself. Growing up as the only boy in a family of older sisters who doted on him did not help this family trait at all.

Known affectionately as Spud, due to his slightly wonky face, Sebastian was nevertheless, oddly attractive with his tall lean figure, bright blue eyes and mop of thick black hair. He had the instinctive cleverness of the late great grandfather, without his work ethic. Whilst he could work hard if something interested him, he could be oddly lazy, taking short cuts if he could, relying on his charm to get him by. When in his teens he decided that he did want to succeed, he wanted money and status, he sat down to decide how best to achieve this with the least effort, of course. Business studies with computer science at a good university, seemed a good option. Especially one that had a robust graduate recruitment programme attached to it. With any luck he would be head hunted, saving a lot of time and trouble. He suddenly put huge effort into his A levels and did enough to get into his chosen university. This surprised his tutors immensely, as they had written him off as a bit of a waste of space. Too much of a player to take anything seriously.

He did quite enjoy university, helped along by a series of passionate, on their part not his, affairs with the prettiest of undergraduates. He had the huge advantage, not only of looks, but being able to talk to girls. Growing up with sisters had given him an edge that most of the other male intake, being generally quite geeky by nature, did not have, and he made the most of it. Pleasant enough on the surface, he made friends of both sexes, of course, but none that he bothered to keep up with in later years. He did enough to get a reasonable degree, pursued the other activities on offer, such as rowing and debating which would make him appear rounded and employable, and waited for the job offers to appear. Luckily enough they did. He accepted a job in a large multilateral company Amizog. What he did not realise was that he was lucky to get it. Amizog were big enough to take chances on individuals that did not quite fit the criteria. Sometimes these rouge elements had interesting things to offer. Anyway there was a robust elimination process for those that did not perform well enough.

Could it be as simple has stopping him getting the job? Pondered W. “The question is, who else’s timeline would be adversely affected?” The answer was Amelia, he had to look further.

In the late 20th and early 21st century mining had become an unfashionable business to be in. It was still necessary though.  Although coal mining had declined, in the west at least, the developing world needed minerals. With the developments of smart phones and electric car technology there was an even greater need for the rare elements such as cobalt which were essential to lithium batteries which powered the new technology. Some of these were still grubbed out of the ground in poor counties over the world. That was until the big corporations, future proofing their profits, stealthily took control. No reason to have such valuable assets in the control of greedy and unstable nations, might give them ideas above their station. This control gave them economic and thus political power behind the scenes. Amizog was perhaps the biggest of these. They also enthusiastically embraced horizontal and vertical integration. They took over suppliers and companies that used their products. They also ruthlessly put out of business anyone developing an alternative to their main products.

By the time in question they had a respectable face and corporate offices employing thousands of people in every major city.

The unexplained mass detected underneath the largest crater on the dark side of the moon in the early 2000’s turned out to be mainly cobalt. The problem was how to get it out and back to Earth. The space race had in the general perception stalled. This was not true, of course, a lot had been going on, but mostly military driven. Control of the moon would give any government a huge military advantage, as well as a stepping stone to other planets. As the moon only ever faced one way towards the Earth, anything could be going on on the dark side. The costs involved in bringing these minerals back would be huge, of course, but it would secure the future. It became an Amizog and government collaboration. A pact with the devil, some might say.

 The moon base was constructed with much excitement from the general public. Pressure dome over the entrance, it was mostly automatic mining with lazars and conveyer belts, but humans had to maintain and trouble shoot. Living quarters, of course, and a research facility. They were also building a deep space craft. Launching it without Earth’s gravity would make life much easier. So there was quite a community growing up there. Being on the dark side of the moon gave privacy but also caused communication problems. Hence the egg. For half its orbit it could exchange data and communicate with the Earth base. There was a control centre hidden underground in the depth of Nevada, which oversaw all operations. The egg was the link between both. For that reason working there was not just open to anyone.  What was going on there was mostly confidential and hidden from the general public and even the government co- sponsors did not really know.  Although the work was comparatively simple, it needed a bit of a technical background. The egg controller needed to be a trusted, computer savvy company man. Six months there was considered a rite of passage for many promising trainees. It was also lonely and deadly boring.

It only takes three days ish to get to the moon. A fleet of simple unmanned cargo shuttles brought supplies for all the personnel and took back its precious cargo. The cargo was sold to the highest bidder. The only problem was getting the minerals out of the ground fast enough to satisfy demand.

Seb turned up for his Amizog induction in a smart sharp suit. “No point in not looking like a winner.” He thought. He picked up his ID badge from reception and took the lift as directed. Walking into the meeting room, he joined a small group of people of his own age milling around nervously. His eyes lit on Miranda almost at once and he flashed her his most winning smile. Tall, slim not conventionally beautiful, but she had something commanding, and to his eyes, sexy about her. It was almost love, or lust, at first sight. She did not react as expected. Indeed she almost ignored him. Bitch, he muttered under his breath, and turned his attention to a small mousey girl next to him instead. This turned out to be a very good move as Stella was actually the brightest of the bunch, dazzled by him , and he was able to pick her brains and use her ideas over the next few months.

Things got worse short term though. The Bitch Miranda, or BM as he thought of her from then onwards, turned out to be his boss. She had summed him up in one glance, she had met his sort before. Her first move into making him a useful member of staff, which may mean tempering his spirit, was to send him to fetch coffee for the other inductees. This meant war, Seb fumed. Unused to being subservient to a female, he initially bridled but began the long game which was to end so disastrously for the experiment.

There are points in time when you suddenly, unexpectedly, reach a dangerous corner or watershed. Something trivial might happen, a minor decision being made, someone ignored or not listened to, or even listened to when they should be ignored, and the whole course of your life may be changed. They are not necessarily the big events, they are often sneaky little things, just unexpected points in time. We usually do not recognise them until too late.

Could W have intervened there, could he have stopped the initial antagonism between Seb and Miranda? Softened the first contact?  Could that point in time be avoided? Absolutely, she did actually find him attractive, which was why she was so hard on him. The problem was with child that was born to poor mousey Stella. She, after all was part of the experiment. W had to let things run, at least until Amelia had been born.

Stella’s pregnancy, occurring a year after they began working for Amizog, was for Seb a near catastrophe. His pretend closeness to Stella, who could not believe her luck, had been a strain, but worth it. Using her brains to advance his career, whilst paying her the minimum attention had been a difficult balance. He had even slept with her once or twice, just to keep her happy when she seemed to be losing interest or expecting more from him than he was prepared to give.

“How did he end up on the egg though?” Pondered W.

He had moved slowly but surely up the hierarchy and Miranda was beginning to soften towards him. He had not forgotten the first insult though. At first the name of the child’s father was all a big secret. Stella did not see why he would not regularise matters and patiently waited for him to do so. This sort of thing was very much frowned on by the corporation, and her job was at risk, and probably his too.

At a major point in time things did come to a head. Stella’s pregnancy was noticed, and she did at last realise what was going on with Seb. He had used her, and had no intention of doing the right thing. She was humiliated, heartbroken but not sacked. Legally they were unable to do so.  The idea was to moved her sideways, banish and eventually constructively dismissed her.

Incandescent with rage, Miranda also felt used. Not only had she begun to consider romantic involvement with Seb, but she had very strong feelings about men who used women and did not pay the consequences. She had also noticed the drop in the quality of Seb’s work since Stella was not assisting him. She could not legally sack him though, but intended to use her influence with the managers to recommend him for a stint on the egg.  This, for someone so gregarious as Seb would be a punishment. He may even resign when he got back, or she would find a way to get rid of him to a remote part of the company.

Ah” Thought W, “ What if he did this specimen’s  culture’s usual procedure and married the mother of his child? Would he still be banished? How can I effect that?”

Seb was not all bad, he realised, just selfish. Perhaps a nudge would do it.

His chance came when at the annual staff party he noticed Seb becoming happily intoxicated. Seb had been seated next to Stella for the banquet. Places had been set by HR, who had noticed a friendship between the two, although not the whole story. Seb never knew what came over him as it seemed a disembodied voice in his head put words into his mouth. “Stella, will you marry me?” Her reaction, heard and applauded by the big bosses meant that he could not easily back track, without losing face or status within the company.

W checked forward immediately to the fatal point in time on the egg. There was no Sebastian, no programme and no total disaster. His relief was short lived though. A year later, there he was at the egg control centre with his plan. He could not stand married life at home with a small baby and had volunteered anyway. Back to the drawing board.

“Ah”, thought W,” The specimen is intelligent enough by their standards but probably not up to writing a complex computer programme. That programme could not have been all his own work. Intervention there might be a possibility.” He was beginning to find this tiresome as he normally did not take such close interest in one individual from the billions now inhabiting the experiment. But needs must if he wanted to finish the job.

The problem with the core ore business was that the alternative technology which did not need the rare minerals, was slowly being developed. The, up until now, suppression of all possible future rivals which had been very successful was now beginning to slip. They just had to find a way of getting the minerals out of the ground faster to flood the market and put their rivals out of business once and for all. The challenge was to safely modify existing high technology to achieve this for minimum extra cost.

Stella, of course was a computer programmer, or coder. She was also an ideas person. The lazar upgrade was her project meant for a mine in Africa. It was her idea that it could be modified to increase production on the largest mine, that is the one on the moon. She, of course, excitedly told Seb all about it. He immediately saw the possibilities for his own advancement. First timeline around, with all the trouble and banishment he just secretly copied the programme on a flash drive and took it with him. Second time around she gave it to him, wanting his advancement for the sake of the family. It was, of course, at this point untested.

As it was part of a greater world process, W, felt unable to just vaporise or neutralise or interfere with the programme.  This would have been the obvious answer. Version B worked world wide and made a difference.  This would mean too many unintended consequences in the natural flow of things. The experiment would be compromised horribly.  Besides, it should have worked. There must have been something unforeseen in the plant or the moon mineral make up that caused the meltdown.

W thought he would take a different approach. What about the character of the perpetrator? This was risky of course because he had to meet Stella and have the child, and any future children whose timelines may be otherwise compromised.  What if his great grandfather had lived and survived the war? Would his grandfather and father be less indulged, would his moral character be better?  Would he give the programme to management who may detect the fatal flaw before the damage was done? Worth a try. It did not take much effort to stop the bomb exploding and for Cryril to survive the war.  In practice this was, as you might expect, a disaster. Another sibling was born, who had a very bad character, which caused trouble in several timelines. It did not stop the egg debacle though.

The final resort was an option that he had dismissed at the first thought. Eliminate Seb, after Amelia was born, of course. This did go against all the rules of the experiment, but perhaps better to have a compromised experiment than no experiment at all. It did not take much arranging, a massive stroke took him off at his desk. His widow then received a huge settlement, picked herself up (he had become a pain to live with) spent a fortune on new clothes, and then remarried quite quickly to a fellow employee at Amizog. This was Jonny, a friend of Sebs actually. She gave him the programme which he took to his bosses, which gained him much kudos and a hefty promotion.

 W checked that the elimination had worked but, to his dismay things were back at square one again. It was a couple of years later, but the same thing was going to happen. Funnily enough it was Jonny with his finger hovering over the button. This time it was quite legitimately. He had been given the privilege of starting the enhancement process. Amizog were going to do the upgrade. Jonny did hesitate, it was as if he knew that it would not end well. W could stand it no longer. Jonny stared open mouthed as a long grey finger manifested from thin air and pressed the button. Experiment over, he thought, as he wrapped his large grey wings around him and prepared for interstellar flight. He did not even wait to see the “Oh Shit “ moment. He had after all, seen it before.

You cannot easily disrupt the flow of time. It is like a river; it will always somehow reach its destination. You can ford it, block it or attempt to divert it, but in the final analysis it will end up where it is supposed to go. It is immutable. Some things are just meant to be.