Elias takes a deep breath, unsure for the millionth time if this is the right choice. Even as everything that could possibly go wrong rushes through his mind, he calms himself. There isn’t any use in worrying now; it would be too late to do anything if it was. Slowly, his heart rate calms, and the stats being loaded up on the holographic screen start to make sense. Elias Alvarez is about to become the first person to time travel. After years of excruciating training and research, his childhood dream is about to come true. He is only going back one second in time, as an immediate attempt to go back days or even months could very well kill him.
Still, the very thought of any amount of time travel is enough to make Elias feel as if he is ten years old again, reading science fiction stories from the few libraries that still hold genuine paper books. Time travel was something even the most academic minds thought impossible for humans for a long, long time. Finally, the so-called ‘Age of Possibility’ had come, and Elias is the living proof of it. The People of Times Before, the old people who had lived through World War IV and the Great Storm of ’68 that followed, thought that Elias and the other scientists were tampering with fate. Elias knows differently, or so he thinks. In the words of Dante, “You were not made to live your lives as brutes, but to be followers of worth and knowledge.” Surely Elias is the follower of worth and knowledge who could not even fathom submitting to the old brutish ways.
It was terrible, waiting there in the freezing capsule and uncomfortably thick protective suit, but as soon as the countdown started, Elias wishes fervently that he had more time. One second was the estimated amount for the safest trip, but it didn’t guarantee that Elias would come out the other side alive, let alone healthy. Elias wonders if this is what the first astronauts felt like. The year 2157 is a far cry from the time of the first space flight, but, in that moment, Elias feels a sort of kinship to those people who had lived even before the People of Times Before. Pioneering a new form of technology is no easy feat, and comforts himself with the thought that, if he doesn’t survive this endeavor, he will at least be remembered respectfully for his sacrifice. Suddenly, Elias jerks out of his musings with the sound of the last numbers of the countdown being called through the radio. His training kicks in, and he braces himself for impact.
The capsule takes off. A strong feeling lands in his gut, as if he has just been punched. His breath comes in short, ragged gasps, and his vision blurs. A fearsome emotion enters his brain, practically animal, and his body convulses uncontrollably. Elias feels every bone in his body grind against each other and then snap back into their place over and over again, each time becoming quicker and quicker until Elias knows that he can’t take it anymore. He is inexplicably hot and cold at the same time, every inch of his body pulling in different directions. His ears pop. He shrinks and then grows large enough that it should not be possible for him to still fit inside the capsule, but the capsule is bending too. Everything around him seems to rebel against the very laws of physics, until, suddenly, it all stops. Elias lays haphazardly in his chair for what seems like hours, his ears revolting against the sudden sharp silence. Ever so slowly, he pulls himself up to look at his vitals. It is only then that he realizes that the screen has gone dead, which should be impossible with the anti-lockdown measures put in place for all technology years before.
As quickly as he can, Elias stumbles out of his chair and out of the capsule. The sight stops him in his tracks. The sky is filled with ash, the land with dwindling fire. Everywhere he looks, all he sees is destruction. The physical pain of the journey is magnified by tenfold in his heart as he searches frantically for any sign of life. He tears out of his clumsy suit and helmet, not caring that the smoke stings his already-teary eyes. He rips apart the few structures left standing and destroys the piles of debris from the ones that had not in his hurry. A half-melted watch catches his eye. It’s one of the few that isn’t electronic, so that must be why it’s still ticking, Elias somehow manages to note in his fear-induced madness. He looks at the date: July 9th, 2157. That’s today in Elias’s time. He looks at the time: 3:42 pm.
Fear mounts in his throat, threatening to overtake him, until he eventually forces himself to accept what he had known deep down ever since he opened the door of the capsule. Everything was gone. Everyone was gone. And it none of it would have happened if he hadn’t tried to take back that single second. All of humanity lost for the price of a single second. Elias falls to his knees, an unearthly howl fleeing from his throat. The grief strikes him so heavily that he wishes that he was back in the time capsule, reliving the tortuous trip. He would do anything if it could bring back what he had lost through his own arrogance. Salty tears run down his ash-covered face, and he stares through them up at the gray sky. All he had wanted to do was help.
But maybe Elias wasn’t the helpful scholar who worked to improve lives for all in this situation. Maybe he should have listened to the People of Times Before more. Maybe he was the brute. And maybe, just maybe, that little piece of knowledge was the worst thing of all to Elias.