Victor was no match for the huge machines that hurtled past, sending a shock wave that ripped through his knees, making him stagger. Thick, black smoke gagged him, stinging his eyes. The huge aftershock made the lens in his spectacles crack such had been the vibrations from the giant machines that had now receded into the horizon.
He steadied himself, a pebble in the barren landscape, caught in a gloom of black and grey. As if it would still be here in a million years. He was about to wretch again, realising it was the sulphur tinged atmosphere. Steadily, he composed himself. The ruins of what had been a civilisation stretched before him, except for the gigantic dome-shaped structures that punctuated the landscape. Their metallic pallor gave him a sense of unease. Is this what the future had become: dead, barren and without hope?
In the debris, a rusty tin can rolled to his foot. Blinking, he noticed a fragment of paper entrenched in mud. Victor retrieved it, steadying his spectacles with one hand to keep the cracked lens in.
' Glastonbury, 2022...' it said in faded italics. He frowned: the words meant nothing. Perhaps, a relic from the past? Only something made him glance. There was a change in the air: an unnatural stillness, making his skin scrawl. A sound buzzed in his ear drums; a growling sound that made the air vibrate. The sound of a tsunami that was yet many kilometres away. He hadn’t witnessed a tsunami before but when he squinted his eyes into the distance, it seemed a monumental slab was coming for him. The vibrations became louder.
Wincing, he made into one of the dome-shaped contraptions slamming his fists against the metallic doors. For an instant, there was a blurr... Such was his confusion he had not realised he was inside. The doors slammed shut, watertight it seemed. He swayed for a moment, stood in a whitewashed corridor that reminded him of a sanatorium. The glare of white hurt his eyes. Still, he realised he was safe. He could hear the thunder of water thrashing against the doors, though none had managed to find its way in.
There was a bend in the whitewashed corridor. When he reached the end of it, another bend beckoned. He hesitated, wondering if this was some sort of trap. Perhaps it was the dehydration but once again, his mind swam. As if time and space had been distorted, as if he was nothing but at the same time his whole form was being stretched. He swayed momentary and on shutting his eyes then opening them, he still found himself alone. This time, and with more resolve, he continued. The second bend led to two gigantic doors that dwarfed him; seemingly impenetrable. Steadily, they opened and a deafening sound overwhelmed his senses. Not the sound of a tsunami but that of machinery clanking away seemingly without purpose. The 'atmosphere,' a vapoury haze of blue generated a dull and artificial light that made him squint. To his left were myriad huts. Scores of them.
Sombre-faced people, wearing a monk's habit and carrying satchels pretended not to see or hear him, their feet making a labored sound. Some glanced mechanically at his direction.He stopped one of them, a gaunt middle-aged man with a scar tracing his cheek.
“What happened here?”
“Please, I must know.”
It was useless he thought, shaking his head in disbelief as the figure shuffled away. He watched again their sorry, demoralised gait. The frustration gave him a strange feeling of having been before. He dismissed it, resolving not to let his thoughts become diverted.
By now, the throb in his knee seemed to have settled and he found he was able to walk perhaps a few kilometres before stopping at what resembled a train station. A mausoleum of noise, stink and metallic structures that belched out clouds of rotted diesel. At the same time his mind struggled to comprehend this was a city within a city. He felt a toy doll pushed this way and that, caught and swayed by disgruntled shoves.
Only his eyes widened when he saw a line of beggars. In rags. Some were young, others old; decrepit shadows that seemed to have become a part of the tapestry. A brutish one with large biceps chewed on the hind flesh of some creature. For some reason, his gaze fixed on Victor, the others sensing this and staring.
It was as if he had seen them before. There it was again! That feeling of deja vu. Only he bumped into someone. It was a hard bump. One of those bumps that makes you halt and assess things. He'd bumped into a soldier. Young and aggressive in uniform, his beret slanted sideways. Like his mouth, firm and unsympathetic. Victor didn't see the taper of the baton as it came crashing down, one sickening crack followed another.
Blows rained down, searing him with pain. He crumpled, strong arms pulling him this way and that, dragged by what seemed a posse of soldiers. "I haven't done anything wrong!" his protests were met by sneers, the pain in his shoulder making his muscles spasm. His thoughts became entrenched in a cerebral fog, his emotions swirling around until he felt nothing.
He had the sense of a shift in time when when he opened his eyes, realising he was in a kind of room with stone walls. He could hear the drip drip sound of water from somewhere and shuddered, cold droplets of sweat trickling along his spine. He huddled into a corner, glancing into the pitch dark as if some reprieve would materialise. THIS WASN'T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN... Except the sound of key grating against lock interrupted the silence. A wad of light filtered in as a solitary figure stood in silhouette, somehow malevolent. Victor's mouth turned dry; shakily, he edged away.
"We knew you would surface."
The voice was thick, used to inspiring fear. Shafts of light illuminated fragments of a khaki shirt as the figure took a step forward. "Spies are plentiful."
The insinuation made Victor speechless. He felt his chest pounding, realising he didn't have a shred of evidence to the contrary.
“Well..?” The figure lurked.
"I am not a spy; I am a time-traveller."
No reply. As if the stranger was not convinced.
“Look, I implore you, I must leave! The apocalypse you see around you can be prevented. Surely you must understand that." Once again, Victor had the strangest feeling he'd been here before. Only he knew the notion of déjà vu was absurd.
He waited, fine particles of dust dancing in shards of light.
" Time travel is not possible without a transporter. You are a spy!’
"...But there is a transporter. I mean a time machine... "
“I can't tell you that!" Victor said with the air of a man condemned.
He blinked hesitantly through his cracked spectacles, his mouth turning dry. "I assure you I am telling the truth."
The figure was still in half-shadow. Evidently, the interrogator was not some baton-wielding brute. Victor could feel him thinking.
"Then you built such a machine?"
"What?" Victor's reply was defensive. "That doesn't matter,does it? "
There was a heavy silence before the interrogator shifted aside; seemingly, the pathway was clear for Victor to abscond. He couldn't help but display a sly, clever smile.
"...I never should have trusted you," the interrogator said, now in full view.
His eyes were as sharp as his neatly trimmed beard. "But I built
more time machines... Including the one stolen by you."
"Professor... YOU!! " Victor’s expression flushed with rage. "..Somebody had to test your contraption out. You should appreciate that. How else could we know if evolution would continue as we had known it. The only way to establish that was to get to the future, to seek the truth!”
"You seek the truth?”
"Don't be a fool. You know what the consequences would be if you detain me. Besides, I don’t want to stay in this hovel of a future. I have collected enough samples and I must be on my way. Professor Darwin would find these fascinating.”
“His theory needs modification. It’s obvious.” Victor couldn’t help the wry smile, as if he had found the missing piece that would promise him glory. "In that sense I can't help it if the course of history changes."
"Have you not realised ...’
“Realised what ?!”
“...That you're in a consequential time loop. Trapped in an event that occurs and reoccurs again. The present may feel real as real as the past, but the truth is our senses can be fooled… An illusory treadmill we don’t know is there or if you want, an
“You’re bluffing.” Victor’s expression became one of dismay. He stared, remembering the strange feeling of deja vu that had been interrupting his thoughts. Except his mouth curled in pure derision."That's impossible. Time loops don't exist. You said - unless," he broke off, blinking furiously through his spectacles.
"…Unless the machine had a flaw," said the Professor. Only Victor laughed and laughed like a man possessed. As if this was another trick engineered by his foe. Yet, within a blurr that would neither be felt or remembered, he found himself trawling through some vaguely familiar landscape in the future.