This was a piece I had to write as an introduction to…something. I don’t remember. All I DO remember is I’d been watching A LOT of Dr. Who and had been talking about elephants quite a bit. So, I decided to mess up time, slam elephants into tiny spaces, and see if I could write something completely different. It sorta worked.
Imagine, if you can, sitting inside a cardboard box. Your body presses against the sides and there is a feeling of musty and constant pressure. It’s a little tight, but also comforting and vaguely reminiscent of childhood. Playing in a cardboard uterus of imagination, the only limits of its power being whatever you could come up with before Mom figured out what you were up to.
Now, take that warm, somewhat nostalgic feeling and compress it into the size of an atom. Oh, and instead of happy, fuzzy feelings of peace and general goodwill, insert pants-wetting terror coupled with irrational fear of the unknown. Because that’s the slightest sliver of what it felt like to be sent. The pressure builds and builds, tighter and harder, ever more intense. It’s like fitting an elephant into a snuffbox, theoretically possible but conceptually horrifying.
The world is spinning and I feel the sudden urge to throw up. Good thing I’m stuck in a broom closet of the past. As I stare at the remains of my dinner I had in 2 years, I reflect on time travel.
We are 99.9% empty space. It’s the nature of electrons and molecules to bounce, and the inherent Brownian motion of our constituent atoms creates a perception of solidity. Of mass and size. But, it was discovered it is possible to freeze everything. It’s a horrifyingly expensive foray into the realm of numbers and extreme expense. But it’s possible.
Here’s the main problem with it. Compressing all those electrons and atoms together in a stasis field shrinks everything down. Except for the actual mass. So, the elephant may fit in the snuffbox. But the snuffbox now weighs just as much as an elephant. Thousands of pounds compressed into a square inch of space.
Some crazy guy in Russia wanted to see what would happen if the hyperdense elephant-box was whizzed around really fast. What if it was brought as close to the speed of light as possible?
Well, what happens is a small hole is created in the fabric of reality, and suddenly time travel has been invented! Oh, and the side effect is a disaster that made Chernobyl seem like a firework. On the plus side, tensions with Russia went way down.
Anyway, fast forward and you get to me. Compressed into the cardboard box pulled from the deepest pits of Dante’s imagination and sped up to a few sneezes shy of the speed of light. I was slipping between space and time with the target of two years ago. Seven hundred and thirty days exactly (no leap years) to get to a certain point, to do a certain thing, to change the future.
Well, the actual point of the mission was to deliver a data dump and a test subject (me!) to the old lab. I had concocted a plan along the way. Because…things had changed. Humanity had lost its way. We had created a strategy of advancing human technology into the realm of what some would have called religion. This is how it worked. We discovered time travel, and how to do it, basically on accident. Fifteen years later we sent an animal 15 minutes into the future. Then, 20 years after that, a human.
There was celebration.
In small, very select circles there was also dismay. It had taken us 35 years to do anything of value with this technology. Then there was an idea. The Idea, as it turns out. It was hypothesized that, if a human was sent back to a time where we were aware of time travel, and had the technological capabilities to continue work with current information, there would be no reason why we could bring all of our knowledge back and build on it even further. So, go back 15 years with the current data, then when we got to the “present” we would be even farther along. Then we would go back again and repeat the process over and over.
And now we have been doing it for…a long time. The glittering apex of humanity lives in those idyllic time loops. The rest of reality and the time stream is completely destroyed. Temporal anomalies, monsters that make nightmares seem cute and cuddly, and an estimated lifespan of 32 years encapsulates the best parts of the living hell the world has become.
Subjects are picked from various locations in time streams and “cleansed” which is a complete stripping of memory, personality and everything above autonomic nervous system functions. They are then injected with data and sent back, to build progress. We’re basically living jump drives.
Time travel only allows living matter to pass. Anything synthetic is lost. Which means, you start by being compressed, but when you arrive you’re the normal size. No one knows why, but there sure is a lot of research going on right now.
I would know, I have it all in my head. For some reason, the cleansing didn’t quite hold and I’m still myself. Well, I think. I don’t remember anything about my life, but I have a sense of self and all of the data from all of the time research done. So, I’m a walking computer who had a sudden, horrifying realization.
I have to destroy everything.
I was traveling to perpetuate a loop that had been ongoing for generations and had destroyed everything we held dear as a species. To save humanity from itself, and to allow human progress to again be separate from that of science. I have to break the cycle. I have to destroy the data, and I have to destroy myself.
To save everything, I have to die.
Most of my emotions have been stripped, so I don’t have to worry about sudden existential crisis. But, I do have to figure out how to do it.
And to this end, I’m hiding in what equates to the broom closet. When I had arrived, there had been chaos. There always is. There is a patch of empty air that suddenly becomes a human body from the future, naked with a head full of data. I had woken up right about when the scalpel was cutting into my right temple. There was a very confused couple of seconds and the tech was dead on the floor and I was panting on the table trying to sift through all the data in my head. No one else came. There wasn’t security, most of it was automated and there were only one or two data retrieval techs at the moment. Why would you need security for breathing corpses? My nervous system was scrambled to hell, so I wasn’t even sure which way was up all the time. I staggered out of the lab and down the hall, flopping into the first empty room I had found. Which just so happened to be this aromatic and noisome broom closet.
The life of a time traveler.
I wheezed a chuckle. Ignoring the reek of bleach and drip on the faucet of the slop sink. It was time to find out what happened when I didn’t do my job. I cracked the door and listened for the sound of voices. Nothing. For a moment I rested my head against the cool metal of the door frame. It was only a few years in the past. But it also felt so much different. This was in the safe loop.
As far as I was aware, this was the only installation with the ability to receive travelers. If I overloaded the core, I should be able to destroy the entire facility.
With a grunt, I flopped into the hallway and started pulling myself towards the core. My right eye wouldn’t stop twitching. After a few minutes, I figured out how to walk in a reliable fashion using the walls to assist me.
I found no-one in my wandering. Just lots of cameras. Looking at the information in my head, I knew they crewed the facility with as few people as possible, it was automated and removed from most of civilization. Best to keep the reality ripping at a safe distance, I suppose.
The door to the core hissed open and I fell onto the console. After a laborious minute of uncooperative limbs, I keyed in an overload function. A deep thrumming vibration buzzed through my skeleton.
This would make Russia look like child’s play.