This month’s featured story comes from Chicago-born writer and artist Daniel Bensen, author of The Kingdoms of Evil, and the forthcoming The World’s Other Side, New Frontiers, and Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen.
by Daniel Bensen
How can I explain myself? What I am contemplating—what I am about to do—is terrible. I won’t just be killing myself, I’ll be killing everyone I know, destroying every thing I know.
But the alternative is worse.
Believe me, please. What I’m doing is not surrender, and it is not cowardice. Indeed, I realize now that surrender and cowardice are the ends I have worked toward my entire professional life.
But let me begin at the beginning. I was born on the ramship Ceres, home to two hundred fifty nine people. That was a little more than half of the human beings left alive in the universe.
We along with the remainder of humanity in the ramship Charon, were refugees. I remember little of that time except the sensations, the anemic, nauseating pseudo-gravity, the squalor, the fear of disease, most of all the hopelessness. Ahead of us was only the sterile cosmos. Behind us, the light and warmth of the Solar System—and the rest of humanity—long buried under the Grey Goo.
So many of us—like my parents—simply gave up. There are many ways to die on a ramship. We considered ourselves fortunate if our suicides did not also kill our neighbors and families. When my parents opened the airlock, they killed a dozen other people, and that was not so unusual. The rest of us mourned our dead, then once again focused on the daily business of staying alive. None of us thought we had much longer.
Then the people came from the future. One day, our two-ship formation gained a member—a much-battered, mostly abandoned derelict we nevertheless recognized as a twin to the Ceres. First, the future people prevented the suicide of our navigator and surgeon general. They warned us away from the Barnard’s Star system, where the Goo waited to digest the Charon and kill half the crew of Ceres. Then the older, wiser versions of ourselves showed us how their time machine worked.
They hadn’t invented it, of course. The technology had come to our guests the same way it came to us, in the hands of the shocked survivors of an even more distant and desperate future. I see no reason to believe that those refugees were the first. Who is to say that this entire process was not begun by one person? The timeline he or she fled must have been unspeakable.
But I must focus.
The future people were happy to add themselves to our population, and we were happy to help them. We had records that they had not managed to keep. We knew the position of the Solar System.
The time machines were easy to make. Space and time are equivalent, of course. We’ve known that for generations. Moving matter into the past is no less impossible than moving it across space. The problem is that the introduction of matter from the future changes the past. When the Old Ceres arrived in our timeline, it erased all events that would have taken place after that time. That was, of course, an easy trade to make. They had saved themselves and all the people who would have died at Barnard’s System. So what if a few friendships would now never be made, a few babies never born, because of the changes they had made? We agreed completely, and we made our first time jump when I was still a boy.
We couldn’t go back too far—we had lost too much knowledge, too many skills. Even in the previous century, the Gray Goo of the inner system would have made short work of us. We could go back only as far as the Last Outpost on Eris, and delay its destruction long enough to build time machines for its citizens. Then, armed with our knowledge and their technology and numbers, we could go back further.
We rescued the people of Pluto-Charon before the Goo could swallow them, packed them into our time machines, and moved backward again. We did the same with Triton, Titan, mighty Europa. With every jump our numbers grew, and another dark segment of our history was erased.
It was a glorious time, an age of giddy optimism. Yes, with every jump backward we doomed a potential timeline, but the new one was always an improvement. Millions of people we rescued from certain death. We were rebuilding humanity.
So we told ourselves.
In the ten years it took to rescue the population of the Jovian system and the Belters, I graduated from my apprenticeship and began to climb the ranks of the Temporal Engineering Corps. My fame grew as I helped save the people of Mars, Luna, and Leo. The directorship of the Temporal Refugee Committee I won with the Earth.
Finally, after much planning and calculation, we managed to transport ourselves back to the time when the Gray Goo was so primitive that people could still live in underground arcologies, buried in the rock of the home world, itself. It was the crowning achievement of my career. And I thought it would be the last.
There are several million of us now, the natives of this time as well as all the refugees pulled back from the future. We now have the numbers and the knowledge to wipe the Gray Goo out entirely. Then we can begin to resettle the Earth, and perhaps even expand back into space. That was our intention before the last jump. But. Well.
That was our intention before we arrived in this time and read the histories the people here have preserved. We thought that just living on the surface of the Earth would be paradise enough, but now we know that our ancestors once lived under open skies. Once there were five billion people on the Earth, sharing it with fantastic “animals” and “plants,” both beautiful and edible. Stories we thought were nothing but wish and fairytale now pale in comparison to the shining Eden that lies just a hundred years in the past.
Already my colleagues in the administration are laying the groundwork. Why destroy the Gray Goo, they say, when we might simply transport ourselves back before the time of its invention? Then we can simply integrate ourselves into the native population (a mere four million refugees could hardly make a difference in a population numbering in the billions). We will share with them what we know, and then together we can build a glorious new future together, and then set aside our time travelling for good.
It sounds like an excellent plan, but I do not believe it. I believe that when we arrive in the past, we will find that is it not a paradise after all. Perhaps its natives will remember a time even better in the even more distant past, and they will demand to be taken there. Then all five billion plus of us will set off, looking for a better life, erasing timelines with every jump, murdering our past.
Yes, murdering our past. We have become a mirror image of my parents, haven’t we? They committed suicide by leaping away from their dying ship. We will leap away from our dying world and commit—what—retro-side?
And even if we stop, even if we settle and give up time travel, that will not end the destruction. Time travel is a well-understood principle by this point. Any one of my engineers could build and operate a time machine. And it will only take one to travel back, change the past, and un-make this timeline. So far we have avoided such destruction by travelling together simultaneously, but how long can that last? When will we simply arrive in the past, look around, then leave again and doom that past to extinction?
So that is why I am killing myself and everyone I know.
I am translating this message into every language I can, and I am sending it back to time of our earliest accurate records. When I transmit it, I know this message will change the past and wipe out my own timeline. I can only hope that the new future that grows out of my message will be better than this one.
I am ready. The transcendence field is charged. I have all the proper authentications and access codes. All that remains is to collapse the field to send my recording back.
It isn’t easy to do this.
I have enjoyed my life. But I can no longer live that life at the expense of my ancestors. I must warn them, warn you, to please—please—be careful.
The future is coming.
Story by Daniel Bensen.
Visit Daniel Bensen’s website – www.thekingdomsofevil.com – for more about his current and forthcoming works of fiction.
To see some of Daniel’s excellent artwork and creature concepts, check out his Deviant Art page.
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