Haley examined the time machine. Where could this have come from? I’ve never seen anything like it. If Lionel Kosta built it based on the one from the past, the one that destroyed the Earth, where did the original ship come from?
She kept going over what they were told during their first night in the tunnels.
“The original machine had oxidized so severely, it’s astonishing one of the time travelers managed to survive.” Lionel pointed at two spots on the side panels. “The metal is particularly thin here. She would have lost all oxygen for several minutes. It’s no wonder all she ever managed to say was, ‘We did it.’ I’m not even sure she’d have had the cognitive function to grasp what they had done.” Lionel tested the latching mechanism on the door. “But what I find most strange, the ozone remaining around the Earth couldn’t have oxidized it so much. My theory is the weapon they used must have had an oxidizing effect.”
And just like that first night, the story made sense, but she still had doubts.
After meeting the refugees and hearing Lionel’s explanation of the time machine and the time travelers’ attack on the past, Haley had yearned for knowledge. She started enquiring with Elizabeth. Together with Edmund and Aldrich, the four of them discussed the underground city’s history. Elizabeth began by telling them of the attack, and how the people of Earth found the time machine moments after the atmosphere shifted. They had watched it fall from high above Seattle. Weeks later, after the storms increased and the survivors were forced to take refuge in the city underground, they salvaged the time machine, and immediately began to study it. Elizabeth shared stories that lead into her childhood and then to her time as leader of the refugees. Her stories caught up the present with Lionel constructing a replicate and the refugee’s fortunate encounter with a previous scouting mission sent by the Solar Council. Although Elizabeth hadn’t outright said as much, Haley quickly realized the people of underground Seattle had one obsession, changing the past.
But learning what had happened didn’t answer her questions, so Haley sought out Lionel. She had hoped his scientific mind would allow more stimulating discussion. But while he knew more about engineering, physics, and time-travel theory than she could ever hope to understand, he seemed as single-minded as the other refugees. His sole goal was to build a new time machine and use it to learn more about the time travelers, and what they did, so they could be stopped.
For a while, Aldrich seemed the most open minded and willing to discuss ideas, but eventually Haley realized he was only humoring her...his mind also blindly bent on changing history.
“But where did it come from?” Haley repeated.
“You’re not thinking about it right. Not where, but when.”
She stood up to stretch her legs. Three days of this same argument. It’s like Aldrich is being stupid on purpose.
“Yes, I understand. It’s a time machine. It’s from the future.” Haley walked to the ship-like structure. “It makes sense just looking at it. The design is modern,” she ran a hand over the rusted metal, “yet it’s nearly a century old.”
He had held the same position during the whole debate, relaxing with his back against the tunnel wall, and holding a smug look on his face. “Exactly. That’s all–”
Haley continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “The when is easy. I want to know who built it, where they and it came from, and why is it here.”
Haley’s twin brother entered the cave. “Are you two still at it?”
Great, another person oblivious to the obvious.
Somehow, after talking with the others and hearing the same story over and over, Edmund quit questioning things. Now he had become the hardest to talk to.
“Edmund, the shuttle returns tomorrow. Are you sure we should help them?”
“Haley, we’ve talked about this.” He had a strange, sympathetic look in his eyes. “You don’t understand things they way these people do.”
“I do understand!” Her temper escaped through her voice. “I understand you haven’t thought this out.” She pointed towards Lionel’s project. “It’s a time machine. They plan to travel back and stop whoever attacked Earth.”
Haley pressed on. “But all we have to go on is one story–almost a legend at this point. And whether it was from a lack of oxygen, or the displacement of time travel, or both, she was probably insane.”
“No one knows who we’re trying to stop. Or what exactly they did to destroy the atmosphere. I wish she could have told them more, but she didn’t.”
“Haley, we’ve all been over this many times.” Edmund looked tired. “Helping the refugees is the best plan.”
This time, he cut her off. “And it’s what the Space Council wants. It’s what they’ve ordered.” His features solidified. “And therefore it’s what we’re going to do.”
A few days ago, he had been like her. But finding refugees; Isaac, Bianca, and Cygnus being killed; and Aldrich being part of a secret plan had somehow made him as single minded as everyone else. And perhaps because of their relationship, his easy dismissal of her hurt more.
“Dammit Edmund.” Her arms shook in anger. “We could request an extension. We have a time machine!”
This is still getting nowhere.
Haley’s frustration approached a breaking point. She spent the last few days turning over ideas. The refuges were about to use a time machine, but while trying to understand everything, she was running out of time. She stormed away, unwilling to listen to another lame reason why they had to use the machine now.
Haley found herself in the grass clearing. Ruined buildings encircled the field. The filtered sunlight showed their faded colors.
These must have been beautiful…they’re still beautiful. We don’t have anything this vibrant on the station. It’s all white and gray.
She scrambled along the sidewalks’ remnants: now an obstacle course of broken concrete, tree roots, and grass.
It didn’t take long for her to locate the clearing from a few nights before and the location where Isaac, Bianca, and Ignus had been killed.
As if in a trance, she made her way to their deathbed. Haley knelt down and ran her fingers over the top of the bloodstained blades of grass.
Overwhelming despair overtook her. The events of the last week raced through her mind. She balled her hands into fists and closed her eyes as tears ran down her cheeks.
Haley thought back to her training. The six campers had spent a year together. She had never become close with aside from Edmund, but she liked Isaac, Bianca, and Ignus. Everyone except Aldrich.
Aldrich. That bastard. He had known about the refugees and the time machine. He lied to all of them.
As focus returned, she decided to head back. While she had sat there in the grass, the sky changed. The sun, apparent even while hidden behind the aurora, had sunk below the horizon.
At the entrance to the building leading to the underground, Haley looked upward. With the sun gone, dancing lights filled the sky.
I’m out of time.
“Finally.” Frederick rubbed his back as he let the cart handle drop. “Moving this lunky thing isn’t easy. Why did we have to haul the machine to the shuttle?”
“You have to break the space/time barrier in space.” Lionel scratched at the scar where his left eye had once been. “If you were to create a time portal connecting an atmosphere to a vacuum, it would suck the atmosphere through the portal the whole time it’s open. The same is true with creating a portal from this Earth to the Earth of the past. This weakened atmosphere would pull the old, strong atmosphere through. The only safe way to create a portal will be from the vacuum of space now to the vacuum of space in the past.”
“I know all of that.” Frederick’s fatigue added an edge to his voice. “I want to know why we have to move the time machine instead of flying the shuttle to entrance of the underground.”
“The shuttle only has autopilot.” Aldrich handed him a water canteen. “It’ll land in the same place it dropped us off. Now drink fast.” Aldrich adjusted the display on the personal interface on his wrist to show the mission clock. “It should be any second now.”
They looked to the sky. A sudden burst of lightning spiderwebbed from horizon to horizon. The aurora’s colors enhanced in response. A bright object appeared in the center of the disturbance.
Was that what it looked like when we landed? No wonder the refugees knew we were here.
As the storm cleared, the shuttle plunged to the Earth. Haley heard a gasp from one of the refugees. He must think it’s going to crash...perhaps it would be better if it did. Within a meter of the ground, the shuttle came to a stable hover and extended its landing struts. For all of the excitement of planetfall, the shuttle landing looked as delicate as a rosebud in zero-G.
“It’s bio-coded for the three of us.” Aldrich called out as he ran forward. He pressed his hand against a panel along the side, and the whole back of the ship folded into pieces exposing an opening. “The Solar Council has sent some extra supplies. I’ll move them out of the way.” He motioned to Frederick and William. “You two start getting that in here.”
Lionel watched as the two young men lifted the time machine from the cart and carried it toward the back opening. “Careful boys. We’ve waited a long time for this.”
Haley rounded the corner of the shuttle for a better view, and noticed the horizon.
Perfect, a storm. There’s no way we can launch with that coming.
“Edmund, Elizabeth, look.” Haley pointed to the Western sky. Clouds over the ocean mixed with the lights and darkened to deep reds and black. “That storm looks bad. We’ll have to wait till it passes.”
“She’s right!” Aldrich emerged from the shuttle’s front hatch.
He’s agreeing with me?
Haley noticed he had put on his a clean uniform. Does he really think being in uniform is important right now.
“The sensors show the storm is gonna be bad. But we can’t stay. We can’t risk leaving the shuttle on the ground durring a storm like that.”
Haley turned to Edmund. After a brief hesitation, he took off for the the shuttle. “He’s right. We have to take-off now.”
The control panel lit, and Elizabeth entered the space/time coordinates. “Exactly what Lionel Kosta told us. Frederick, double check my work.”
“It looks right.”
Haley examined the time machine like she had days ago. The same questions still haunted her. Where did the original time machine come from? Why did they attack in the first place?
“We’re entering the Earth’s outer atmosphere. The time portal should activate in sixty seconds.” William adjusted the viewscreen to show the green and purple electromagnetic storms.
Elizabeth stood at his side. “Think about it. If we’re successful, if we can stop the time travelers, the world may never know these storms.”
The hammer of a gun cocked. “And if I’m successful, the awesome power of the weapon the time travelers use will be mine. And the Solar Council will bend to my will.” Aldrich pressed the barrel of a gun against Elizabeth’s spine and handed another gun to William.
William backed into a corner where he could cover Haley and Frederick.
“Aldrich, what are you doing? I’m the leader of this mission. We’re not going to steal the weapon. We have to stop it.”
“No, Edmund, this gun makes me the leader of the mission.” Aldrich scoffed. “As highly as you’ve always scored on tests, you’ve really lacked in common sense.”
Aldrich typed new coordinates into the system.
Haley looked at the coordinates. She didn’t completely understand all of Lionel Kosta’s instructions, but something didn’t look right to her. “Aldrich, what are you planning to do?”
“I’ve placed our arrival as close to the Earth as I can, at the exact point where the time travelers will attack. We’ll intercept them before they use the weapon.”
Another glance at the coordinates and Haley understood the problem. “Aldrich, you can’t use those coordinates. You haven’t accounted for the earth’s revolution. We’ll materialize inside the Earth’s atmosphere.”
“I've been working on this plan for a year. You can’t trick me now.”
“Aldrich, listen! Change the coordinates or we will be the ones to destroy the Earth.”
Aldrich pointed the gun at Haley. “Fu–”
She lunged at him and drove her shoulder into his abdomen. They fell to the floor and the shock of her head hitting the surface sent a jolt down her spine.
Elizabeth stood in stunned silence. Her gaze shifting from the mass of Haley and Aldrich, to the control panel.
“William,” Aldrich gasped with what breath he could draw into his lungs. “Get...her...off...me.”
William reached for Haley, but hands closed around his neck and jerked him backward. Edmund kicked him in the ribs and turned on Aldrich.
“No, Edmund!” Haley drove an elbow into Aldrich’s side. “Forget about him. Disengage the time machine.”
Before Edmund could make it to the control panel, it lit up like a mini solar storm. The brilliant colors through the viewscreen changed from green and purple to pure white.
“Haley, what’s happening.” Elizabeth pointed to the thin sidewall of the time machine. “The machine is falling apart.”Haley felt like she had run a marathon. Each gasp for breath made her want another. “It’s oxidizing. We’re pulling the past Earth’s atmosphere into our present. We did it. We did it. After all this time. It was us. The ones trying to save the planet destroyed it. We did it.”
Eric Price lives with his wife and two sons in northwest Iowa. He began publishing in 2008 when he started writing a quarterly column for a local newspaper. Later that same year he published his first work of fiction, a spooky children’s story called Ghost Bed and Ghoul Breakfast. Since then, he has written stories for children, young adults, and adults. Three of his science fiction stories have won honorable mention from the CrossTime Annual Science Fiction Contest. His first YA fantasy novel, Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, received the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval and the Literary Classics Award for Best First Novel. His second novel, The Squire and the Slave Master, continues the Saga of the Wizards. It is scheduled for an August 4, 2015 release. Find him online at authorericprice.com, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.
Scott Harpstrite is a scientist, rock climber, and writer. He grew up in central Illinois, often playing on his family's farm and in the nearby woods. His passion for exploration developed into a love of science, travel, and stories. Now working as a lab manager in St. Louis, Scott has co-authored over 15 peer-reviewed publications focused on diagnostic imaging and drug development. When not performing research or visiting new places, Scott writes both science and fantasy fiction.