Thursday, May 3, 2018

Microstory 834: Insight

“Now remember,” the scientists says, “you can’t change the past. It has already happened for us. All you are there to do is recon. Find out exactly how the world ended, and hopefully how we can make life better moving forward. Anything you try to do while you’re there will have an effect on the future, but only in that reality. Time travel within a single timeline is impossible, because just by traveling to an earlier moment in time, you create a new timeline. You can’t save your family; not your real family.” I nod, because I understand this truth fully. She has me remove all of my clothes, then she takes my measurements and vitals again. It’s important for the machines to calibrate the trip according to my specifications. If they’re just a little bit off, I could wind up rematerializing without a finger, or the part of my brain responsible for remembering my daughter’s name. I volunteered for this mission, and I can think of no greater honor. It’ll be strange being back in a world before everything turned to shit, but I can’t take it for granted. Those aren’t my people, and if I don’t get back in time, those I actually care about will never see me again. She submerges me in the solution, letting me suck on some oxygen with a rebreather, but I won’t be able to take it with me, which means I may have to hold my breath for up to four minutes, once the process gets underway. It feels so good to be in water again. After the shortage began, baths and swimming became illegal. It took years for this team to procure enough of it for their experiment, wasting a lot of it along the way as they worked towards perfecting it. The project leader is a brilliant woman, who reminds me of my late wife. I feel so fortunate to be part of this endeavor.

She holds up the okay scuba diving hand signal, and waits for me to return it. Then she removes the rebreather, and activates the machine. The water tenses up, almost like it’s become solid. I can feel an electrical current surging through me. It’s painful, but not debilitating. Bubbles form at the bottom of the tank, and start shooting up towards the surface. It’s getting hotter and hotter, and I’m thinking I’m going to pass out, but I don’t, because I can’t. For a moment, everything stops, and all I see is darkness. Then light begins filtering back to my eyes, and I feel myself moving. The electrical current is gone, replaced by a river current. I pop out of the water, swim over to the bank, and crawl onto dry land, cry-laughing uncontrollably for having survived the journey. After a decent walk, I find out that I had surfaced in the Yangtze River, upstream of Shanghai, China. I start studying the problem there, remembering the water shortage began in this region. It would seem some mysterious contaminant made its way into one of the largest drinking water reservoirs in the world, by population served. Shanghai needed to source their water elsewhere for a long time, which caused strain the world over as the dominoes continued to fall. It was me. I caused the end of the world. Distraught, I make my way to Russia, where the scientist I meet in the future now lives, and break a rule of time travel by telling her that I think I actually did land in the same timeline that I came from. She just smiles at me and says, “good. Now I know for sure that my plan works.”

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