Tyler huddled alone in the dark, listening to the rhythmic beating of his heart echo against the stone walls. The hair on his arms and legs stood up on end, but it had little to do with the icy cold temperatures inside the small room. His whole body was hyper-alert, writhing with nervous energy fueled by a mixture of fear and anticipation. Once more he checked his watch, before taking a deep breath in a vain attempt to calm down. He still had twenty minutes till midnight, he might as well get comfortable.
For a city dweller such as himself, the desolate silence and stale musk of the room were far from his comfort zone. He was not claustrophobic, but to be separated from the constant activity of his own time period was an unnerving experience. He was shifting his weight, an attempt to restore feeling to his legs, when he noticed a thin shaft of light penetrating the darkness. The hole it entered through was small, but wide enough for a man to look through and discover Tyler’s presence. He glared at the hole, using the light to search for a way to block its glow.
He had resigned himself to the presence of the beam when suddenly the hole widened abruptly, and a dark figure leapt through it. Though his eyes had barely adjusted to the light, he could see the pale outline of a woman’s face. She was older then Tyler by several years, with hair as white as her devious grin. Her clothes were clearly worn, but still managed to carry an air of sophistication and grace.
Tyler quickly leapt to his feet and assumed a defensive stance. If he was discovered, there was no chance he could disarm or defeat the officer, if indeed that’s who it was. Still, he had come to far to go down with out a fight. To his surprise, however, the woman raised her hands slowly, backing away from Tyler.
“Easy there, big fella.” She said calmly. “I think we’re both here for the same reason. You plan on crossing over?”
“3108?” Tyler asked hesitantly.
“Exactly.” The woman said, her Cheshire like grin the only thing visible in the dim light. “Now give me a hand here.”
Tyler eyed the woman suspiciously, but agreed that the hole she had created must be sealed. With a bit of effort, they managed to prop an abandoned piece of plywood over the gaping hole, once more plunging the room into darkness.
The new company did little to help Tyler’s nerves, and he now felt his heart beating like a jackhammer. The room was too dark for him to read any facial features, but he was sure he could feel the woman’s eyes running up and down his body.
“Now then, my name is Megan.” The woman said, seemingly unbothered by Tyler’s presence.
“I’m Tyler. Sorry for the rude welcome. Guess I was a fool to think I’d be the only one trying this tonight.”
“Yeah, but that’s quite the coincidence that we’d both pick the same room.” Megan replied.
“Probably for the same reasons.” Tyler reasoned, beginning to calm down. “This room is a storage cooler. Highly insulated from top to bottom. Which means no one should be able to read our heat signatures.”
“Or at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves.” Megan said, and although he could not see her smile, Tyler could sure picture it. “You scared?”
“Why not? 3108 is forbidden…”
“Yeah, but not really.” Megan replied. “Not like the past is. Here, you’d just get a warning and get sent back to your home time.”
“Well sure.” Tyler said. “You head to the early 2000’s, and you’re likely to destroy a thousand years of human perfection. Head to 3108, and you’re really only hurting yourself.”
“That’s the spirit. When are you from?”
“2734.” Tyler said. “That’s when I was born, and I’ve never been more then a decade from there.”
“You don’t travel?”
“Nah, every year’s the same, right? What’s the point?”
“Not every year.” Megan corrected. “Take 2525 for example, Christmas everyday of the year. Or the Olympic year in the 2380. My favorite is the 2040’s.”
“The renovations?” Tyler asked. “Why?”
“Just imagine,” Megan began with a new spark in her voice, “the first generations of humans deemed worthy of future technology. The combined wisdom of a thousand years of humanity dumped at your doorstep. Time travel opened for them, and the future was revealed like the pages of a book. The way the Earth would be for a millennium, and it was up to them to build it. Every stone, every step in this world was built during that decade, and it hasn’t changed since.”
Tyler had never really thought of it that way. He knew the Earth of his own time, and knew that it never had, and never would change. A perfect world, designed at the zenith of humanity, then shared backwards a thousand years, so that all could enjoy it.
“Progress, work, accomplishment.” Megan said, a hidden pain in her voice. “Just imagine. Now, we travel time like we walk down a street. We have every year available for us to explore, but nothing to see. The 2040’s were the last time we were ever surprised. The last time we ever grew.”
“Yeah, until tonight.” Megan agreed. “And now we’re…”
The sound of footsteps overhead silenced the pair. With held breaths, both Megan and Tyler listened intently as the dull echo of feet rumbled ever closer. After a few seconds, the sound began to recede into the distance, and the pair of breaths was exhaled.
“Cop doing his final round.” Tyler said, glancing down at his watch.
“You know, that’s probably the most exiting moment of his life we just witnessed.” Megan said. “Now he’ll head home, and surround himself with whatever life he’s built. I’ve known people who have lived their whole lives in the same hour. Just constantly going back and forth in time, trying some new pleasure each trip.”
“There are worse lives to life.” Tyler replied. “For most people, no work and no worries is a utopia.”
“But not for us, eh?” Megan replied. “What made you decide to cross over to the forbidden future?”
“Honestly? Not sure. My folks live in 2187, you know, the honeymoon year?”
“Trust me, I know it.”
“Uh huh. Anyways, I’ve been on my own for a while now. I’m not complaining. It’s been fun, but…”
Tyler leaned forward now, and if there had been any light in the room, Megan would have seen his eyes sparkle.
“I’ve always been fascinated with technology. Time travel, food synthesizers, med-pods, I love all of it. I spend most of my free time trying to figure out how they work, and how to build one. If I had been born before the Renovation, I think I would have been an engineer.”
“Why not travel to the 2040’s then?” Megan asked. “That’s where the last engineers were.”
“Why bother?” Tyler said, slumping back. “We know everything will succeed. Work for the sake of work isn’t my type of thing.”
“You want a purpose.”
“I guess. Success doesn’t mean much without the fear of failure. I know it sounds silly, but I’d love do something risky. Where failure actually means something.”
Both Tyler and Megan froze at the sound of the strange voice. They had been so focused on the conversation at hand, they had failed to notice how loud their voices had gotten, or the sound of footsteps overhead.
“I know what I heard.” The voice repeated. “Come out now and we’ll have you home soon.”
Neither Tyler nor Megan dared speak, but they didn’t have to. They knew the man above was an officer, whose duty was to catch people like them. If he found the pair, there was no telling the trouble they would be in. Their only ally now was silence and time. It was mere minutes before midnight. If they could hold off long enough, the officer would be forced to abandon the search in order to make his way back.
“Aha!” The voice said, sending shivers down the spines of Tyler and Megan.
Their fears were realized as strong arms pulled the makeshift covering away. With a thud, the man jumped down the hole and landed on the hard ground. He shone his light at Tyler and raised his weapon. Even while shielding his eyes, Tyler could make out the familiar uniform of the police officer.
“Now I don’t want any trouble.” The man said. “Follow me and everything will be ok.”
Tyler slowly rose, keeping firm eye contact, pondering his next move when he noticed Megan moving quietly behind the man. Tyler realized that he had been the one talking when the officer had entered earshot, and the man had no idea that Megan was even there. As he got to his feet and raised his arms, he resisted the urge to signal to Megan. Instead, he kept firm eye contact with the officer, making sure the man did not lose focus and turn around.
“No trouble here officer.” Tyler said. “Nice and peaceful, just as you said.”
The officer kept his gun raised, and his back turned to Megan. Tyler watched in stunned disbelief as Megan picked up one of the metal bars that had held together the roof of their shelter.
“Just don’t kill him.” Tyler said.
“What?” The officer replied, but it was too late. A swift blow from Megan, and the man was on the ground, unconscious.
Silence descended upon the room once more, as Tyler and Megan stared at the motionless body.
“You didn’t actually…?”
“No, he’ll be awake in a couple minutes. Eh, probably.”
The excitement of defeating their foe had now passed for the pair. It didn’t take long to realize their actions had dire consequences, no matter what they did next.
“If we leave him here, or tie him up, he’s coming with us to 3108. Against his will.” Tyler pointed out.
“I know.” Megan replied. “Another patrol is bound to come by here soon. We could lift him out, let them find him.”
“But then they’ll find us too.”
“So either no one goes, or we all do.”
Both Tyler and Megan sat down slowly. In their minds they might have pretended they were still considering their options, but they both knew deep down the decision had already been made. Within minutes, the sound of footsteps could once more be heard, this time twice as loud.
“No sign of him.” A voice said from above. “Do you think he headed back?”
“He must have.” A second voice replied. “Nothing we can do anyways. It’s 11:57. We can’t risk another pass.”
“Agreed. No one’s stupid enough to be left here anyways. Come on, let’s go home.”
The pair waited with held breaths as the two officers retreated into the night. Before, Tyler would have been content to wait out the final minutes in silence, but now every free thought turned to the officer in front of them. Finally, he could take it no more.
“What about you? Why are you here?” He asked.
“Hm?” Megan replied. “Me? How could I resist? I’ve always loved a good mystery, and it doesn’t get any better the 3108.”
“Oh, come on! A thousand years of humanity joined together through the power of time travel. Everyone in a thousand years coming together. But no one, not a single person from the year 3108 or later has ever been seen. And you’re not a little curious as to know why?”
“I know some other people were, right?” Tyler replied. “Didn’t they send a couple scientists out there once? The Scheduler’s, or something…”
“The Schneider’s, yeah.” Megan corrected. “They Folded to the beginning of the year, and they never came back, which is why the year is off limits. Most people think it’s the end of the world.”
“But not you.”
“I wouldn’t be here if I did. I’m not sure what happens that year, but I want to find out. What can I say? My curiosity gets the better of me.”
Tyler smiled, but it was a strange, forced grin. Both him and his odd companion were trying to downplay the event, and act as if it was just another adventure. Neither of them wanted to think about the true consequences of their actions.
“Do you have anyone who’s going to, you know, miss you?” Megan asked, speaking more quietly then she had before.
“Not really.” Tyler admitted. “A couple people might wonder where I’ve gone, but nothing more then that. You?”
“No, no one. It’s better that way.” Megan said.
“There’s a chance, you know, that we wouldn’t be stranded. The Schneider’s Folded to 3108, so that fold will still be open for a little bit. If you found it…” Tyler began.
“But I don’t. No one does.” Megan said. “We may not no why, but no one comes back through that Fold. Not them, not anyone. We’ll probably die this year, or some distant decade. But it’ll be in the future, not the past.”
“And we’ll die knowing, won’t we?”
“Yeah.” Megan replied. Tyler had no way of seeing, but he guessed her smile had returned. “Doesn’t seem so bad when you put it like that.”
Tyler checked his watch again, counting down with the digital hands.
“Happy new year.”
Tyler’s watch beeped twice, and then silence once more reigned in the tiny room. As far as either of them knew, they were the only three people on left on the planet, further down the timeline then nearly anyone had ever been. Tyler wasn’t sure what he had expected to happen when the clock struck midnight, but he was almost disappointed at how ordinary everything felt.
“Well, so much for the end of the world.” Megan said.
Any elation felt by Tyler was erased as a groan rose from the floor of the room. The officer was finally waking up.
“Wh… When am I?” The officer asked, rubbing the back of his head.
“Easy there cowboy.” Megan said, raising the gun he had confiscated from the officer earlier. “We’re not going to hurt you unless you make us.”
“We’re you the one who knocked me out?” The officer asked.
“Yes. My name is Megan, this is Tyler. You are?”
“Officer Roberts, you still haven’t answered my first question. When am I?”
Megan paused for a second, choosing her words carefully.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” She asked.
“I was patrolling the area.” Roberts said, struggling to remember. “Making sure no one slipped into the... Oh no.”
“I’m afraid so. Welcome to 3108.” Megan said with a weak smile.
Roberts reached for his gun but found it missing.
“There’s nothing you can do.” Tyler said. “The Folds are off to make sure no one can get here. Unfortunately, it also means no one leaves. You’re stuck, just like us.”
Tyler had never seen the energy drain out of a body as fast as it did Roberts. His arms went limp, his head drooped and his shoulders sagged. He was the image of a man defeated.
“Come on. If we’re going to witness the ruins of humanity, we might as well be comfortable and warm.”
Megan pushed aside the previously constructed ceiling and climbed out of the room. Tyler followed her, vainly trying to shield his eyes from the bright light of the moon. At all times, one of them kept an eye on Roberts, in case he tried anything, but Tyler suspected there was no need for concern. Roberts shuffled behind Megan like a stray dog, barely even acknowledging his surroundings. Both of his guards, on the other hand, could barely believe their senses. The streets, normally so busy with life, were now traveled solely by the wind. The buildings were perfectly preserved, and almost glowing in the light of the full moon. For Tyler and Megan, every stone and every window served as reminders of the world left behind. It was the pinnacle of a species, frozen in a dark tableau.
The trio wandered the streets for several minutes, with no real destination in mind. Soon, Megan gasped, and Tyler followed her gaze into a nearby room. They had found their way to the Hub, one of the many areas where citizens Folded through time or space. The room was usually filled with hundreds of small blue portals, going either forward or backwards through the time stream. In order to ensure no one entered the forbidden year that Tyler and Megan now inhabited, the portals had been shut off minutes before midnight. The room was now barren, a sight that shocked both Tyler and Megan. Robert’s eyes lit up briefly with hope at the sight of the control terminals, only to fade even darker then before. As ones used to an unchanging world, the shock was almost too much to bear.
“It shouldn’t be like this.” Tyler whispered. “This isn’t right. These buildings should be lit up, these Folds wide open. This is an abomination.”
“This is the future.” Megan replied. “The true future. We have no idea what will happen now, nothing to guide us…”
As if on cue, in the distance a bolt of red light erupted into the sky, forming a massive crimson spire. As Tyler and Megan watched, a shockwave of equally red light radiated from the spire and through the night air, passing overtop of the pair before heading off into the distance.
“What…?” Tyler stammered, watching as the red spire faded away.
“I’ve got nothing.” Megan said. “I’ve never seen or heard anything like that before. Maybe it is the end…”
“Or it’s a signal.” Tyler replied. “And since we’ve got nothing else to do tonight, I say we go find its source.”
“I’d love too, but it looked pretty far away. It’ll take us a long time to get there. And we don’t even know it is a signal.”
“No, but I’m pretty sure.” Tyler said with a smile, pointing to the rows of nearby Fold stations.
Each Fold had a console nearby where travelers could select their destination of choice. When the pair had seen them before, each console was dark, but now they had come alive. Tyler and Megan looked at the nearest screen, and found a series of digits staring back at them.
43˚ 52’ 15” N -79˚ 25’ 1” W
“Latitude and longitude.” Megan said. “Assuming that’s the source of the beam, I still have no idea how to get there. I’m not even sure where ‘there’ is, not just based on this.”
“No, but I bet the consoles do.”
“So what? All the Folds are offline.”
“All the temporal Folds. I’m willing to bet the spatial ones are still operational. There would be no point in turning them off.”
“Its worth I shot I suppose.” Megan said with a shrug.
Tyler glanced at Roberts, making sure the officer gave no objections, and then accessed the panel. To his delight found that the spatial Folds were still online and ready to go. With nervous fingers, he entered the co-ordinates into the system, and watched as the glowing blue portal appeared in front of them.
“No telling where this leads. You still want to go.” Tyler said.
“Of course.” Megan replied. “Roberts? You coming.”
Roberts nodded weekly, and stumbled towards the fold. Megan was the first to enter, followed by Roberts and Tyler in order. Since he was the last to enter, Tyler found himself briefly alone in the station. He had managed to mask his fear well with Megan present, but now that he was alone again, he darkness seemed that much closer. With a deep breath, he took a fateful step forward and entered the Fold.
Tyler had expected to find something strange waiting for him on the other side of the fold, but he found much more then that. He walked out of the Fold and into a crowd of twenty or so people, all starring nervously at each other. He quickly found Megan and bee lined towards her.
“Guess we weren’t the only ones who were curious.” Megan said. There are people from all over the world here.”
Sure enough, Tyler looked around and recognized people of, Indian, African, Japanese and Latino decent, all looking equally confused. Every few minutes, another Fold would open and a new group of people would arrive. As they watched, they were approached by an older Japanese man, followed by a younger girl who no more then twenty.
“Based on your confusion, I am guessing you are not the ones who brought us here, or caused the light show.” The man said.
“No, sorry.” Megan replied. “How do you know someone caused it at all?”
“Because I can understand you perfectly, yet your mouth does not match your lips.” The man said. “That means someone nearby has a translator, and I doubt anyone would have brought that unless they were expecting to meet someone. I don’t believe any of us were.”
It was at that point Tyler noticed two women standing near the back of the group, silently watching all before them. Both women were dressed in fine white suits, and had short blond hair, although one was clearly older then the other. What struck Tyler as the strangest, however, is how calm the women looked. While the rest of the group milled around, unsure of what action to take, these women seemed unconcerned with the whole affair. Tyler couldn’t help but stare, an action that was noticed by the older woman. She caught Tyler’s eye, smiled, and began to speak.
“Welcome, one and all, to the future.”
The buzzing of voices that had been surrounding the group disappeared as heads began to turn towards the two women. The older one waited for attention to be focused solely on her, and then continued.
“My name is Arta Schneider, and this is my daughter, Anna. Some of you may recognize our names. When no humans were found Folding from the year 3108, we were the scientists who volunteered to investigate. I’m sure most also know that we never returned to our own time.”
Arta waited, reading the faces of the people in front of her for confirmation of her assumptions. With just the hint of a smile appearing at the corner of her lips, she continued.
“Most people think we came here in order to discover the future. They are wrong. We came to create it. We left behind the comforts and the security of the utopian society we all know, in order to visit the unknown. We are glad we are not the only ones.”
Tyler could feel the atmosphere of the group change. Emotions unfelt for a thousand years now surfaced in the minds and hearts of those standing around him. Anticipation, excitement, even fear coursed through their bodies, stirring ancient desires. But one emotion still reigned over the others. Confusion. Tyler was not too surprised to find that Megan was the first to combat this confusion, by raising her hand and her voice.
“No offence Ms. Schneider, but exactly what unknown are you talking about?” She said. “We may be in an unpredictable future, but we’re only a small group of people living in virtually the same world. The possibilities are limited.”
Another man, one who appeared to be of Indian decent also spoke up.
“It seems as if the two of you have planned this whole thing. Am I to assume you have further plans as well? Plans which you have not revealed?”
The smile on Arta’s face had now fully blossomed, and she rubbed her hands in glee.
“You all thirst for knowledge and understanding.” She said. “Good. Keep that curiosity and that impatience. You will need it. Yes, good sir, there is more to our plan then this. But first, a history lesson. My daughter and I had the considerable fortune to be born in the year 2893. It was in this year, and this year alone, that something incredible happened. We received a message.”
Arta let this hang in the air until a younger woman finally spoke up.
“Who is ‘we’? What was the message? Who sent it? Please, just tell us the full story.”
“My apologies.” Arta said with a giggle that seemed ill matched with her age. “I have waited a long time for this, and I suppose I do have a flair for the dramatic. The ‘we’ in this case is humanity. I’m afraid I don’t know exactly who sent the message, or even what it said. What I do know is that it came from beyond this solar system, and it was intelligent.”
“Extra-terrestrial.” Tyler whispered, although not as softly as he had thought.
“Exactly.” Arta said, staring at Tyler. “Something, or someone from beyond our world spoke to us, and we did not reply. In fact we did nothing. I’m sure none of you even know such an event happened. Such is the state of humanity. What should have been the greatest moment of our history is now ignored for the simple reason of ‘why bother’? We have become stagnant, content to wallow in our own bliss and ignorance.”
“There are many who are fine with that.” One man interrupted. “Ever since the Renovations, people are happier then they ever were before. There are no more wars, no sickness…”
“I know.” Arta interrupted. “And there is nothing wrong with that. Many people lead long, happy lives, but it’s not enough for me. Not while there are still questions to be answered. And since all of you left your comforts for 3108, I’m guessing it’s not enough for you either.”
Not a word was spoken.
“I am told,” Arta continued, “that I am the final chapter in the history book. Because I volunteer to go to 3108, I am the last person worth knowing. Due to this celebrity status, I knew my fate from an early age while many others never knew how their lives would end. I was taught in school about what I would do as an adult.”
If any of the group members had managed to take their eyes of Arta, they would have noticed the one man in an officers uniform beginning to stir for the first time since arriving.
“I spent most of my life wondering why I would volunteer.” Arta continued. “At the time, I certainty didn’t want to. I had a happy life, and why would I give it up? Then we received the message, and I focused my attention elsewhere. I was convinced there was a way to modify our temporal Folds to travel great distances, perhaps even to other planets. But without funding or outside intrest, I never had the opportunity to put my theories into practice. But now, the resources of the world are ours to do with what we will. There are no more economies, no more restrictions put upon us. We are, for the first time in a thousand years, truly free.”
So enraptured was Megan in the events unfolding in front of her that she lost her awareness in her surroundings. She had not noticed that as Arta continued to speak, Roberts became more and more alert. With grim determination, the former officer grabbed his weapon out of Megan’s hand. Megan could do nothing but give a sharp yell of protest, causing Arta to look Roberts way.
“You’re all sick!” Roberts said, leveling the gun at Arta. “You’ve thrown away everything we’ve worked for, all so you could pursue your own twisted ends!”
“Who is this man?” Arta asked, defiantly staring down the barrel of the weapon.
“My name is Andrew Roberts, and I was happy!” the officer said, tears beginning to form in his eyes. “I had a family! I was content! I was loved! And you, because of your selfish wishes took it away from me! Now I am nothing, and I have nothing to lose.”
“Sir, it is obvious that you do not wish to be here. I am sorry for your…”
“Silence!” Roberts said, waving the gun. “I’ve heard enough from you! You act like heroes, but no one asked you to do this! No one needed this! Why couldn’t you leave well enough alone?”
“I needed this.” Arta replied calmly. “We all needed something to strive for. Remember, we all came here willingly.”
“Not all of us.” Roberts replied. “I didn’t ask for any of this! And now, my world has ended! My life is over! And it’s all thanks to you!”
Arta remained silent, but her lack of response only seemed to agitate Roberts further.
“Send me back.” He said. “Send me home or I will shoot.”
“I cannot. The Folds are closed. There is no way back.” Arta replied.
“Then I guess I have no need for you.” Roberts said, aiming the gun.
Before Roberts could pull the trigger, Arta’s daughter Anna stepped in between shooter and victim. She had remained silent up to this point, but now there was a fire in her eyes that easily out shone her mothers.
“Stand aside girl.” Roberts said. “I have no desire to take your life. But I will.”
“Then pull the trigger.” Anna said calmly. “Because to kill my mother, to kill her idea, you’ll have to kill me too.”
“Why would you throw your life away?” Roberts pleaded. “You had everything, and you gave it up for a life of doubt and hardship? Of uncertainty? Is that something worth dying for?”
“Yes.” Anna said, staring Roberts in the eyes. “Because more importantly, its worth living for.”
Roberts hesitated and lowered the gun for the first time since raising it. The defiance and determination in Anna’s eyes was clear. Even if Roberts didn’t believe the words coming out of the young girls mouth, it was clear she did.
“I see.” Roberts said in a forebodingly calm tone before turning to the crowd. “You all feel this way?”
Several people, including Tyler and Megan nodded, and no objections were voiced.
“I can’t… I can’t do this.” Roberts said, the gun falling from his shaking hands. “I shouldn’t be here!”
Roberts fell to his knees in a sobbing heap as Arta approached.
“No, you shouldn’t.” Arta said, kneeling beside him. “Think about this. The human brain is still the most powerful device we’ve ever used. Use yours now.”
“W-What?” Roberts stammered.
“Someone had to know you weren’t coming back.” Arta continued. “They had to have known that you never returned from you patrol. But they never warned you, and never did anything to stop it. Why not?”
“I don’t know.” Roberts said, running it through his mind. The more he thought about it, the less tears flowed, and the calmer his voice got.
“Why wouldn’t they tell me? It could have all been avoided, but they never… they didn’t… Why?”
“I don’t know.” Arta said, helping Roberts to his feet. “But perhaps there is a reason, and perhaps we’ll find out. If we just keep moving forward.”
Near the back of the group, Tyler watched on in amazement, trying desperately to process everything that had happened over the last few hours. Some things made sense; others would take time to understand. And time was finally on their side.