Maslov’s Dog (short story)

Richard Vincent
7 min readJul 23, 2022


Photo by cottonbro, Pexels

In the months proceeding the leaked reports of a working, macroscopic, temporal dilation generator, ethics groups and public pressure had reduced testing to jumps for extremely brief intervals of time, in very controlled settings. Most who were authorised to jump were constrained to do so within the confines of giant military warehouses set up in remote parts of the UK, for up to six months previous and for 10–15 minute trips maximum. Indeed this time window was only slightly less than what was feasible whilst portable fusion was still in its early development.

The implications of time travel were developed long before the technology could be used on macroscopic objects. This, of course, began with the incredibly accurate measurements performed on microscopic black holes at the Penrose laboratory in California. From this pioneering research, scientists became aware that there existed a cool-off period proportional to the distance travelled, during which events that changed in the past would ‘correct’ current events. For example, a photon that was reflected perpendicular to its original trajectory would briefly find itself in a superposition of its old and new state before spontaneous collapse into the latter. During this period, measurements could be performed that allowed researchers to simultaneously record the original version of events and the new version.

This cool-off period — sometimes referred to as the causal half-life of events — was recognisable at the perceptual level for macroscopic processes. In what was a remarkable discovery, the switch from previous to new futures, with some mindfulness training, could be fully remembered. Researchers were reported to have experienced “a lucid recollection of new events, combined with a faint belief that things transpired differently to reality.”

The cool-off period offered a window for scientists to more seriously consider the long-debated paradoxes that arose from changing past events. This was spurred on by the surprising observation that, outside the warehouses, little to no perceptual ‘correction’ took place. In other words, changing the past appeared to have no discernible effect on the future outside of a certain controlled setting. Furthermore, whilst alternate histories contained conflicts, these often diminished over time.

The seemingly minimal change in present events conflicted with a number of common misconceptions about the time travel process that have been proliferated by various media predating the technology. Perhaps the best, and most well-known, illustration of these disparities is the case study of Maslov and his dog…

Eight months into the latest iteration of trials, and with little experimental progress on the effects of significant past interference, Commander Maslov approached the researchers with a request.

The commander’s beloved dog, named Lynx, had died in November the previous year from osteosarcoma that had metastasised into the creature’s lungs. The Commander was confident, on the advice of his vet, that the tumour had begun around June, at which point a simple operation could have saved the dog’s life. The request, as I am sure the reader will now know, was to jump back to late May and warn of the cancer developing in the young dog’s bones.

Such a request was difficult to dismiss, equally due to the commander’s ranking, his desire to save a loved one but also, as I am sure the dear reader understands, due to the scientific curiosity in doing such an experiment.

In the intervening years since research began, portable fusion technology had rapidly improved. The energy required for just over a year’s jump, only lasting a few minutes, was entirely feasible. The attention around the dilation generator had died down as politics further west took precedent and, with that, the researchers were able to be slightly more liberal with their jumps.

After a few weeks, researchers had made the necessary adjustments required to send Maslov back and carried out a comprehensive risk assessment. They had agreed with the commander that he was only to make a singular change. This was, at the time, considered a substantial risk, yet the scientific curiosity of researchers and the love the commander had for his late dog superseded these concerns.

After a few seconds, Maslov successfully returned from the jump. Whilst supercomputers tracked the cool-off from the current to the new present, the team saw the transition of their memories from old to new.

According to the reports, over ten minutes, the commander began to remember the interaction he had just initiated. First, the shock of seeing himself in his office. Second, the concise, urgent message he needed to deliver, repeated three times for clarity, then just as quickly as he had appeared, his disappearance with a brief, intense crack of electrical energy and a residual metallic smell in the air.

As the cool-off time reached its end, the mood amongst the researchers and Maslov quickly changed. The delivery of the message had been a success. Lynx had received his operation and made a full recovery. Yet, on the same day the osteosarcoma had originally stopped the dog’s lungs, the dog had been shot dead by a farmer in a field two miles from the base. An officer had been walking the dog, who was feeling particularly excitable and had scared some sheep. The jump had not achieved Maslov’s aim and, indeed, only left him feeling greater regret for his poor companion.

With very little time for senior physicists to protest, or for the necessary paperwork to be completed, Maslov asked to return. This time, to that day in November when he let the officer walk his dog. The researchers hurried to readjust the equipment, clean the portable fusion exhausts and reset the computers. By the afternoon, the commander took his second trip back.

For the keen reader who has been keeping up with theoretical advancements in time jumping, this recount will come as no surprise. For a long time, changing events in the past was seen as the origin of a chaotic process. One that would inevitably lead to a butterfly effect of changes, cascading through the universe and fundamentally altering the present moment. Implicit within this assumption was that events could be readily altered with a quick jump to the past.

Such a mental model severely stunted theoretical progress. Consider a ball on top of a very narrow hill. Travelling to, say, the Cretaceous period and stepping on a branch was considered equivalent to a tiny nudge of the ball, creating an instability that would lead to it falling down the side of the hill. This would be analogous to, for example, altering the evolutionary path to one on which humans never existed.

Of course, the energy required to travel so far back, even for a fraction of a second, is impossible even by theoretical standards. However, we now know that even if you could visit the dinosaurs, you would be extremely unlikely to change anything. In our ball analogy, we see that the true nature of the hill should be reversed, revealing a narrowly sloped container. Push the ball a tiny amount — or even by a huge amount — and you may disturb its motion temporarily, causing it to roll up and down the sides of the container. However, it will quickly return to where it originated, at the centre of the vessel.

The period of rolling back and forth is analogous to the cool-off period experienced by the researchers in our case study. For relatively small ‘pushes of the ball,’ those closely related to the changes in the past will experience a temporary disturbance characterised by a shift in their memories. However, the universe is not chaotic as we once thought. Instead, the ball returns to its original place and events continue to occur as before, despite the changes.

Of course, there may be a few minor alterations in the immediate moments after the jump. Our analogy and equations are often approximations of the truth. But significant events, those that are seen to create larger effects in the universe, will always converge. Our commander, unfortunately, had to learn the hard way (or rather, the empirical way).

The reader may wonder why the death of Lynx was significant enough to converge so quickly on the same day as his original death in November. Especially when often convergence can take place over weeks or months. It’s impossible to say. I hesitate to suggest that the universe works in mysterious ways but, if we have learned anything in the 500 years since the development of quantum mechanics, it does.

Perhaps the fact I am recounting the story to you now, just as many textbook authors have done before, is the reason Lynx had to die. His death, once at the hands of cancer and twice to the farmer, created reverberations around the world when the experiment was eventually shared.

We used to think of the universe as vindictive when we went beyond our natural domain. Old films would tell us that changing the past would force us to learn our lesson the hard way: to never mess with the passage of time. Contemporary research has shown this to be false. The universe doesn’t hold any special intentions. If there is a physical law we can manipulate, such as those of relativity and quantum mechanics, then there is no reason why we should not, nor any reason we should face the wrath of nature for doing so.

What we must learn, however, is that the universe has a plan for every eventuality. We cannot trick the universe, or alter the laws of physics. Every action is accounted for in the programming of spacetime. We must face the truth that there are things we can do, but not necessarily things we can change.

The universe does indeed, it seems, have a fate for all of us. We may not know why, and we cannot assume our chosen course is anything but random chance. Yet, this is the universe in which we exist. If the initial conditions of the universe were different, we may all have been set on a different course or, more likely, none at all. Whilst Maslov and his dog’s time together was short, it was a moment that was permitted to exist by the laws of physics. Therein is where there is meaning.

There is something remarkable in how the collisions of particles can lead to emergent phenomena such as the love between a man and his dog. We now know that asking for more, is asking too much. In the superficial unfairness of nature, there is an underlying justice: that we exist at all.

This chapter is dedicated to the memory of Commander Maslov and his beloved dog Lynx, who both perished before their time.

“In the dark, time feels different than when it is in the light.”



Richard Vincent

Physics graduate. I write about physics and sometimes philosophy, ethics, psychology and insights found at the intersection of these.