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1 year ago

Truth to be told, immortality was a side note to time travel. I looked forward to seeing the world slowly progress around me. After studying history at Duke, the opportunity to live what I learned seemed unbelievable. The old man insinuated time traveling was a necessary evil that immortality wrought. For me, endless life was the cherry on top of the dessert that was time travel. I guess some people just can’t live without a computer.

I would certainly miss my mom and two best friends, Alice and Sam. Compared to thousands of years of human history though, I think they would understand where they rank. Plus, I’d get to see my mom’s birth in 2,950 years. How many sons get to say that? Roughly zero. Unless this immortality time travel deal is more like finding a nickel on the ground and less like winning the lottery.

The whole thing was pretty strange. I was waiting for the bus to pick me up for work. The ride to library lasted thirty minutes and up to another fifteen at the stop. Quality book time. Last week I read historical accounts on the War of the Roses. I never understand the craze for this Tyrion fellow when Richard III’s tale offered all the epics and tragedies one could want. Anyway, this week I followed that up with some easy reading on the Bantu expansion in Africa. My eyes were devouring migration after migration when an old man sat next to me. I wouldn’t have even noticed his thick gray beard or blue button down shirt, but it’s hard to ignore repeated greetings for long.

After capturing my attention he wasted no time asking, “Son, how would you like to be immortal?”

So I thought he was a crazy, recently homeless man. I rolled my eyes and resumed reading. Not seconds later, a portal, rotating red, orange, and gray spirals, opened in front of me.

He spoke as if giving a lecture. “Immortality lies beyond that gateway. You will feel a tingle and experience some strange sensations, and then you shall live forever.”

Opening a portal added some credence to the old man’s offer, but history didn’t offer much assistance on immortality or magic gateways. Old Sunday school lessons flooded back though. “So am I giving up my soul when I walk through that?”

The old man just laughed and shook his head. “There are only two conditions for my offer. One, you will be transported 3,000 years into the past. Judging by your entertainment material, you might even check that as a plus.”

I glanced at my open book for a moment and then back to the old man.

“Secondly, you will be unable to tell anyone about this. Your current life will cease to exist, and none shall ever learn of your immortality or new place in time.”

“What’s to stop me?” I challenged.

“Our agreement. After entering the portal you will be unable to write, speak, or otherwise communicate any of this knowledge to another person. No matter how hard you try to form the words, you be unable to do so.”

“And what about language? I’m a historian, not a linguist. English didn’t exactly exist back then.”

He nodded and seemed to size me up. “Clever. No one thinks about that. Most delve deeper into the immortality bit. Well, ask and ye shall receive as they say. The local language will also be yours.” The portal swirled a new mix of blue, orange, and black. “Unfortunately, I can answer only one more question. In thirty seconds a young lass is going to turn the corner of Trent and Oxford. In twenty-nine seconds the portal will close. Time is ticking. As they say.” He smiled warmly.

I nodded. I didn’t trust this man nor his strange emphasis on ‘they’. As if he wasn’t in on humanity’s idioms. To be fair, I’m not really sure what I’ve heard the past two minutes. And eternal life the old fashioned way I could handle, but this? Yet the opportunity to live history was as easy for me to reject as young boy declining a playtime with Superman and Batman. I had to assume he spoke truly and thus could only clarify details with my final question. “When you say my life will cease to exist, what exactly does that entail?”I asked. Suddenly feeling the weight of this decision pressing on me, I blurted out a second question. “Does this immortality mean I will never die?”

The old man grinned but answered promptly, “It will be as if you were never born. One cannot exist as a duplicate of another. Since you will inevitably live until your present birth year it will be impossible to be born a second time. You will inevitably live this long because you will never die.”

Then he raised his eyebrows expectantly and lifted five fingers, lowering one for each second. With one raised finger left I entered the portal. I thought I heard a sigh before rapidly racing colors enveloped me. My heart raced with excitement. Seconds passed into minutes passed into hours. Maybe. I don’t really know. My internal clock simply broke against the tides of time. Like I said, I was looking forward to living the history of the world. I found it difficult to focus on much else. Eventually the mass of colors settled into a place I would have never expected.

The rocky desert landscape suggested North Africa or Middle East. The scenery suggested Armageddon. I racked my brains for a catastrophe of this magnitude around 1,000 BC but could think of none. I decided to wander for a bit, thankful for the obvious path and cool night’s breeze.

The local fauna wilted and eroded in the winds. Camels lay dead on the rocky path. Occasional human skeletons huddled amongst others. Some died alone. Creatures of all kinds who sought shelter under broken carts and wagons found no satisfactory protection. I eventually reached a tall hill where I stopped for one of the most depressing views a historian can witness. I was positive I identified the Nile running below me, alongside a mass of widely ruined stone structures. For the size of such a ruin in this era, it could mean only the Pyramids. They lay in shambles perhaps only a few miles away.

My books could not explain such a level of death and destruction. They certainly couldn’t explain the collapse of a wonder of the world. Or that the same wonder stood tall and proud in my lifetime. I bit my lip. My old lifetime. I mused on that for a bit until I heard the most unexpected sound amongst all of this destruction. A human voice, speaking English. At least what I thought was English. Who knows how all this magic works?

“Welcome traveler,” a male voice said with a tone that felt anything but welcoming. The man dressed as an ancient Egyptian with a light tunic and simple kilt but looked decidedly of European descent. His black hair topped a grizzled beard, and he looked at me behind light green eyes. “I know you’re wondering what happened. I also know of your unspeakable condition. Follow me.” He started to walk towards the ruins.

“Who are you?” I retorted.

“Follow me,” he repeated with such ferocity that I did not argue. Not here in this abomination of ancient Egypt. We walked quickly, at such a pace I did not think would last for long.

“What you see around you is Egypt in the year 999 BC. The Great Pyramid of Giza, The Sphinx, all the famous landmarks you can conceive lay wasted. Humanity holds on by a thread here. Some animals and life forms hold out better than others. Camels for instance fair quite well, far outliving humans now. We don’t know why.”

If the man spoke any quicker I think I’d be glad to only be confused.

“More importantly, this status is not exclusive to Egypt. All over the world catastrophe strikes the human race. However, we’ve discovered that we can rebuild and reverse this disaster. Word reached us that Bantu migrations in Africa are resuming. We hope to learn what we can from their remedies.”

I kept walking, but interrupted him as my bewilderment had finally boiled over. “What the fuck man? None of this happened. How did my -” I choked on my words. I physically could not echo my immortality or time travel in any way.

He caught on though and finally looked me in the eyes. “No speaking about it, remember? That was the deal. You’re an immortal now, and I’m sorry to say you have a bigger price to pay for it than silence.” He looked back towards our destination, the pyramids, and we marched on.

“We discovered the secrets of time travel in 2065. As an unforeseen side effect, those who time traveled were granted immortality. Immortals needn’t sleep, nor eat unless worked, never tire, and never die.” He grumpily added,” Even if they deserve to.”

Before this could all settle in, his guide started again. “Quite convenient since the discovery of time travel would also set the world in such a state that only immortals could save it. Time travel created such a rift that the Earth reacted violently with fissures, acid rain, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and any other disaster you can imagine. Even worse, humans, and most life on earth, drop dead for seemingly no reason.” The man abruptly stopped. I walked a few paces past him. “What year are you from?” he asked.

“2015,” I answered cautiously.

He nodded and resumed walking. “Keep up,” he said. I followed him once again. “The catastrophe is directly linked to the discovery of time travel. In 2015, no catastrophe occurred. In 2065, this catastrophe results in a horrid mishmash of neanderthalism and modernity. So we create immortals by sending them back through time to areas that need it most. You’ll find many more where we’re going, and as you live your life you will recognize new immortals by their abrupt appearance. All immortals are dropped in at 999 BC so there will be a time where an individual will not exist to you until a sudden kinship grows from spending decades or centuries together. Be quick or you’ll miss it. Or so I hear.”

I felt silly buying into all of this, but what else was there to do. “How long have you been here?”

“Just a year. Those originally from 2065 are brought back to the start of the catastrophe in 1,000 BC. It’s a bit too chaotic to gather new recruits amidst fire and brimstone. New recruits are sent to a point one year later for us to gather for work.”

It seemed that bit about immortals never tiring held true. Not even a gasp yet, and the last time I hit gym was in college. “You seem like you’ve been here a lot longer than year.”

“I have the knowledge of my forebears. You see, this fix has been underway for a while. Three cycles now to be exact. We’re getting it right, but it’s taking time. Fortunately we have a lot of that.” He smirked.

He continued on, “You’re clearly smart enough that your next question should be something about where all the old veterans are. It seems time travel is a one-time thing. Traveling again either reverses the immortality status or traps the traveler in another dimension. Either way, none of the first cycle pioneers made it through a second. Hopefully by the end of this cycle the world will be settled right and proper. Otherwise we have quite the dismal future to look forward to.”

Silence fell between us for a while. About a half-mile from the ruins he calmly asked, “Are you ready to spend your immortal life working to correct the wrongs of your descendents?”

A man whose name I didn’t even know asked me the biggest question of my life. How could I respond? “Do I have a choice?” I replied.

He stopped, and this time I managed to stop with him. He looked at me with a compassionate firmness befitting a father. “Of course. You can choose to work as a free man or work as a slave. But you will work. Humanity depends on it.”

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1 year ago