There’s a ship on the horizon. From the sandy shoreline, it appears small and harmless, like mobile over a child's crib. If only it were so. Stay away, I pray. Or better yet, turn around and go home.
But it approaches all the same. Uninhibited. Inevitable. The people on board have hope, and those ashore are about to lose theirs, for these visitors will beg for kindness, then force out the natives to build new homes and fill the land with disease and waste. As I stare on with tragic resign, I decide that I can no longer bear to relive this pivotal moment, and I allow my portal to take me back where I belong.
No one else has ever, to my knowledge, or the knowledge of anyone else in my field, mastered the incredibly complex art of time travel. Just me and my two partners. It is without a doubt the least ethical accomplishment I’ve ever attained, a moment of glory shrouded in the shameful veil of playing God. Our brilliance and zeal have created a horrible thing, and for that reason, we can tell no one. In fact, we ourselves have not left the lab for some time. Not until we can set things back to normal. Not until we can right our well-intentioned sins.
When I step back through the box from the world I’ve just left into the one I belong to, I can't bear to look at my crewmates. They understand what it means – that though I have successfully completed our objective, I have tragically and utterly failed. Because since the first trip through time, I’ve had one goal in mind, and that was to right a tragic wrong. To restore a land and a people and a culture and reset history to a time where you could rightfully own something that was yours and not stolen from the broken backs of others. To undo the suffering of my people who were pushed mercilessly toward extinction by a ghostly race who will at first tout their own victory, then erase the evidence so they could deny the battle ever happened.
I make it as far as my corner desk – which is littered with frantic notes and haphazard equations, snack wrappers, and empty water bottles – before I collapse into shoulder-shuddering sobs of grief and loss. One crewmate rushes to my side and wraps me in an embrace so we can cry together. Another one implodes into silence. We know this is the end of not only decades of research, but the end of an era. It is the end of many eras. Of countless probability waves all collapsing in on each other into the singular reality that we knew before the cube was ever built, and before I shot myself hundreds of years into the past to try to right a tragic wrong. To restore a land and a people and…I’ve said this all before. So. Many. Times.
After the tears have passed, the three of us stand around the monstrosity that we created and clutch the heaviest and most destructive objects we can find: a hammer, a wrench, and a fire extinguisher. No one wants to be the first to land a blow, to destroy the most prolific scientific breakthrough in all of human history. But we’ve seen too much, and we know it cannot be left alive. So, we count to three, and we all swing together. Metal dents, and sparks fly. Computer chips crack into fragments and glass fissures like our dreams. There are primal yells and howling cries. We obliterate our time machine and all the possible futures of humanity with reckless fury and when only a useless shell remains, we crumble and mourn.
I am sure that many will speak claims of what they would have done, what we should have done, what the world could have been. Some will speak words of praise and others will criticize. But only we three know how it felt to stand among tribes of strong and proud humans and warn them that their hospitality would end their worlds. Only we smelled devastating change riding in on an otherwise harmless salty breeze. Only we saw the vibrant hues of bloodshed sprayed among green leaves and peach sand. Only we heard the cries of war. And only we know the true weight of choosing who lives and who dies.
Each time one of us returned from saving their world, our own was drastically different and unrecognizable. Great tragedy it turns out is inevitable, and human hatred is the only cancer on Earth that can never be eradicated. We know now why gods stay in the clouds, why the modern world is bereft of miracles.
So, after trying every approach, only one remained. And behind my crying eyes, I will never forget the sight of a ship on the horizon. Of the people on board who have hope, and the ones ashore who are about to lose theirs. I will weep with the failure of every human life on my shoulders. I will live out my days with the incomparable shame of knowing that I have become the ghost race who celebrated a victory, then erased the evidence that it ever happened. And I will never forgive myself from turning away and allowing the demise of my ancestors to prevent my own.