This Best Of All Possible Worlds.

So it turned out that the second-hand time machine I got at Cash Crusaders very cheap (the guy behind the counter said it must have fallen off the back of the lorry into the arms of the guy who sold it to him) was working after all. It was one of those “batteries not included” jobs, and when I went down to the cafe and got some rather dodgy-looking AAs it all turned out fine.
The thing looks like one of those old video game consoles that kids used to play in cafes in the 1980s, being made of beaverboard with a control panel in front that’s a couple of joysticks and an on-off switch and three buttons. Except that where the video screen would be, there’s nothing. Absolutely nothing, that is, and when you put your hand into it, your hand isn’t there. You can’t feel or move your hand, either. But you can pull it out. Well, you can pull it out once. I’m not putting anything in there again.
The way it works turns out simple too. You go wherever you want in time. The screen isn’t really big enough to reach through, and I’m not trying although maybe Cash Crusaders has a pair of lazy-tongs that would work. But you can go wherever you want in time and space. It takes time to go in space though, and I don’t have space for that sort of time, so I mostly stuck to the Earth in time and space this time.
When you get there, you can make changes. I guessed that. You can then push the second button and move around in time and see how the changes you made affect time. Of course if you push the third button the changes you made turn out to be real. I don’t know what would happen if you went back to kill the guy who built the second-hand time machine and then pushed the third button. Something bad, I suppose. Maybe in a good kind of bad way? I don’t know. Really.
The obvious thing to do in time was to save Chris Hani in time, so I went and borrowed an R-4 from my friend and a couple of fifty-round magazines and went and hunted around and saw him killed a couple of times that Easter and then used the time joystick to go back and the space joysticks to move around until there was Janus Walusz waiting and I filled him full of lead, copper and antimony. It was quite fun, and it didn’t do my karma any harma because I hadn’t pushed any other buttons yet so it wasn’t real. Then when I pushed button two it was real, but only in an alternate universe, like in science fiction movies except this one had better scripting.
What did surprise me a little was the ten guys with AKs who jumped out of the Mamba around the corner and came and gunned down Chris Hani while he was standing over Walusz’s riddled body looking like he was trying for the Multiple Sclerosis award, and then they put an AK in Walusz’s dead hands and it really looked like I had wasted my afternoon.
So I went back to my friend and borrowed an 84mm Carl Gustav with a couple of spare rounds and went back and first blew away Walusz and pushed button two and then went back again and used the Carl Gustav on the Mamba, which worked fine except it set fire to the original Barack Obama HOPE poster on the wall behind me. And then I pushed button 2 and followed Chris’s subsequent career, which of course really took off after he arranged the sale of Lesotho to the Enron corporation, and when he twinned Sandton with Pyongyang and elected himself Pope. After he addressed the Republican Convention in 2008, though, I decided that was too much to take, so I pushed button one again and erased everything. Maybe Mbeki had been right after all.
I decided that I might have made too many assumptions there. So I decided to solve the problem of apartheid. Specifically I decided to take out Hendrik Verwoerd. I went back to 1960, thinking that I would save South Africa from being expelled from the Commonwealth. But again I had only an old .32 revolver, and although I blazed away like anything everything just lodged in the bastard’s head and this poor fish named Pratt got all the blame. What was worse, I accidentally pushed button 3, and it was all in the history books all of a sudden — in fact, the National Party won the next election instead of losing it, so the United Party missed its chance of self-destructing.. I decided to go forward to 1966, hoping to solve the Rhodesian crisis, but it had already happened, and I’d only got a long knife by that time (my friend was complaining about the cost of the ammunition I was using), and before I could work out how to reach him, this other bastard get to Verwoerd before me with an even longer one and after that there wasn’t much point.
It seems that the past is a big mess. I wondered if maybe I should try not to be so ambitious. I took the trouble to go back to the conception of George W Bush and flipped a morning-after pill into one of Barbara’s martinis the morning after and pressed button 2. That seemed to work pretty well. As far as getting rid of Bush went. In fact, Al Gore was elected President in 2000. The whole world was spared the horror of a Bush presidency. The invasion of South Africa went ahead on schedule in April 2003, and it was interesting to watch the 82nd Airborne descending on the ruins of Bloemfontein. (I’d really thought that Gore was greener than that — I didn’t expect him to use nukes.) After that, though, things got quite sticky, what with the Indonesian invasion of the United States, the imposition of sharia law in Utah, and the appointment of Fatima ya Muhammed (who was called Ann Coulter before her country’s enemies invaded her country and converted them to Islam) and Hillary bint Rodwell as joint Caliphinas of New Baghdad.
I really hadn’t expected all that to happen. I suppose the point is that stuff happens and you work with the past that you have, but still, it did seem that things could have turned out differently. It’s a funny old world, really.
I decided not to try getting Hitler even if I did consider Supergluing a lockbox over button 3 first. Besides, Stephen Fry had already done it. I really didn’t want to touch Jacob Zuma with anything. That didn’t leave very much left from the bucket list. It occurred to me happily to go back a long way and give my ancestral male incarnation in this world a good spanking when he was little but then it occurred to me unhappily that he might take it out on his children, and then where would I be?
Change is pain. And it must come from within. Organically. Kind of like cholera in that way.
Maybe it might be fun to go to the Cape Town Heerengracht in 1652 and take out Jan Van Rebecca. I hated learning about him at school and his face looked really stupid on the old Rand notes. My friend won’t lend me any more surface-to-surface weaponry, but I can probably fashion a bow and arrow out of stuff lying around on the building site on the next property. Maybe then South Africa will turn out for the better and we can have a proper African Renaissance and stuff like that. Anything is possible if you can only believe. Or maybe the Manchus would get so encouraged by the death of a third-string Dutch bureaucrat that they would come over and conquer us and we would at last have some kind of work ethic going. It’s hard to be certain of things like hope and change and pain.
If I can only get some better batteries next time.


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