It was on the day the stars began to die when I first met him. He knew of my future, yet I had no recollection of his past. Somehow, strangely, I knew him. Like one knows a reflection they see in the mirror. Even though he looked nothing like me, I recognized a part of myself as I looked into his eyes…
I began trapped in the time rift, slowly decaying in my prison, the ship’s oxygen depleting. My reality was fading, and I would soon be erased from existence. I could only hope that happened before I began suffocating. In a few moments, Zeltrex would win, and any civilisation that ever existed would be exterminated by the unkillable soldier. I had failed.
I was the last of my kind, watching the rest of my people exterminated in the blink of an eye. I was helpless to watch my adversary mercilessly slaughter my comrades, friends, and family. All gone. I alone was the last hope of humanity. 150 billion lives destroyed. But humanity wasn’t enough for the soldier. Its bloodlust expanded to all of galactic civilization. It intended to stop the birth of civilization itself.
I followed it to the beginning of the universe. I had to stop it from ending the birth of our sun. It destroyed everything in sight, planets, nebulae, and stars in search of our own world, to ensure Earth was never formed, and humankind never came to be. I tried to stop it, but it was expecting me. It had rigged my time-machine, and I was cast away from the flow of time, into the rift that split my reality. Doomed to fade away from existence.
But hope came in the most unexpected form. My time-machine out of power, and I in the middle of nowhere and no-when. Yet there was a sudden burst of charge. It wasn’t possible. Time should not have been moving for me, yet the readings were clear. I slammed down on my wrist to activate it and blinked out of the rift. That was when I met HIM.
In a blinding flash, I was back on Earth. I tried to hold back the torrent of tears as I found myself at home again. I was one of the lucky few that had the privilege to grow up in humanity's birthplace. My lush, green, beautiful home, where the gravity wasn’t crushing, the air wasn’t toxic, surrounded by the heavenly chorus of the earthly creatures that inhabited this paradise. I turned my head back to scan my surroundings, and there he stood, towering before me.
The moonlight reflected from his bald head, rendering me blind. As my scanner adjusted my vision, I caught sight of a face, whose age I could not determine. He could have been as old as a teenager or an old man at the end of his life. He was unnaturally hairless, not a single hair on his body. Instead, his body was flooded with a series of intricate tattoos that resembled fractals. But what struck me most were his eyes. A black retina I could see my reflection in, with pupils shining a sparkle I had only seen in the stars. Gazing into them was like watching a galaxy spin on its orbit.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Ace.” Ace? This stranger was confusing me with someone else
“Sorry mate, not the guy you’re after. The name’s…”
“A.Y.R? Though it’ is not a name is it, more of a code to define you?” I stared dumbfounded. How exactly did someone from the past come to learn of someone born aeons ahead of his time? He couldn’t have been another time traveller. Only three machines were made, with one destroyed alongside...
“Did you summon me from the time rift?”
The man gave a stern and stoic nod. “I am indebted to you for learning such power. But you are far from rescued, you haven’t much time I’m afraid”.
“I don’t understand…” My senses failed me all of sudden, as if on the verge of losing consciousness. I fell to my knees, feeling my soul being torn out of my body. I tried to heave myself up, but my hand passed through the ground. I could see through myself, fading in and out of existence.
“It’s the time rift”, he began, “it still has you trapped. Right now, you are only an image here”. I stared open-jawed at the man, whom I had never encountered. How did he possess such knowledge? “We haven't much time. Look there, Ace, the stars are dying! And when the last shining star fades away, Zeltrex will rule all.” I stopped dead at the sound of that name, my bionic arm twitching with trauma.
The wind suddenly grazed across my face, as it howled in terror at the sound of its name. "How...do you know of that name? Who are you?" I kept my gaze on the wizard, terrified of the answer. Another wave of weakness struck rendered me helpless. He hurried to catch me, but I phased straight through him. My existence was fading.
"We haven't the time for an explanation. We must get you a Negamass crystal quickly." I gave an expression of disbelief. They were crystals that powered my time- machine - how did this primitive man know of such advanced technology? “Look yonder.” He pointed to a distant mountain range. “They lie in the cave at the summit, in the lair of Umtuk, guarded by his dragonkin”. I stared dumbfounded. My universal translator couldn’t decipher his gibberish.
“Er... sure thing Gandalf...”
“Harken,” he corrected me. “Harken Void”. He traced a circle with his hand and opened a wormhole. I could see the mouth of a cave emerging from the other side. Without warning, he waved his hands and hurtled the portal towards us, consuming us whole. We were left at the cave entrance. I scanned my surroundings and found myself looking down at a bottomless fall. Had I not just witnessed it, I would have ridiculed this ‘wizard’ to believe in the illogicalness of magic. There was no other way someone in his time period could have the technology to construct a wormhole.
“This way”, he beckoned. He snapped his finger, and a neon flame suddenly flickered in his hand. He raised his finger like a torch as he entered. I hesitated to follow, but a sense of trust and familiarity, which I couldn’t logically explain, had taken over my instincts. I followed him through the abyss of the cave, lit by the faintest flicker of the wizard’s flame.
I was awestruck with questions, yet left speechless by the rapid-fire of the events. I looked into the eyes of this wizard, wondering of the wisdom that lay beneath them. Somehow, there was so much in him I could see myself in. I'd like to think that perhaps he was one of my ancestors that I inherited my adventurous nature and sharp intellects from.
“I summoned you using your crystal,” he answered, as if he could read my thoughts. “I cast a time spell on it, you see. Spent years trying to decipher and recreate such powerful magic. But my efforts were futile. It was only because I encountered you, that I was able to master the spell. Of course, we have the otherworldly druids to thank too, for teaching me the ways of time.” Otherworldly druids? I had a feeling I knew the race he had in mind, but it wasn’t possible for him to know about life beyond Earth in this time period. Not unless…
“What was it that the druids taught you?” I asked.
“Time flows like a boat on a river. The current is too strong to go against, so we can only move forwards. But in the future, you find a way to pick up that boat to move along or behind the stream. That’s what that contraption on your wrist does. But a current as strong as the flow of time cannot change; history cannot be rewritten. Even if you dropped your boat with a large enough force, the stream would only ripple before flowing in the same direction, unchanged. Meaning your adversary, its creation is inevitable, and will seek to destroy all of civilization.”
His words confirmed it. The druids he spoke of were the Rettlings of the planet Razillion. Their monks had taught me to tame the forces of time. They granted me the time machine, as the last hope of all galactic civilisation. “Then you know the limitations too?”, I asked, “drop a large enough rock to completely stop the flow and the water would carve out a new path, and the flow that was left behind would disappear. That’s what Zeltrex is doing. It’s erasing entire solar systems to make sure Earth is never formed, that humanity never exists.”
“I am aware,” he replied anxiously. “We’ll fade from existence if we fail to stop Zeltrex. But right now, you, my friend, are rendered helpless. You’re trapped, your flow is evaporating, your time is fading out of history. Time right now is another adversary.” He stopped and pointed his finger, lighting up a narrow opening. “Fortunately, we’ve arrived.”
I peered through the opening and was amazed at my sight. A glow from the crystals illuminated the pitch-black cave as if it were caught in an infinite sunrise. A deep growling shattered my awe, as a horde of vicious dragons surrounded me. I could feel their inner flames burn stronger in hostility. Their eyes darted towards me in sync, as their mouths began to build up an eruption of fire. I gripped my mechanical arm and morphed my blaster ready. I began charging my weapon, ready to fire back.
“Foolish human!” bellowed the dragon that stood guard, towering above the crystals. “You dare to steal treasure from the dragon’s lair? Has your greed blinded you of your fears?”
“I only need one of your crystals” I pleaded calmly, “I wouldn’t be here if there was any other way. If I don’t succeed, all that you know will be erased forever. I only come to prevent a terrible fate from befalling us all.” But my words only seemed to antagonise it.
“You speak of prosperity yet point your weapon at me?” With a blood-curdling bellow, the dragons blasted a rainfall of fireballs in attack.
The wizard rushed to my side, but I only shoved him out of harm's way, as the fireballs set me ablaze. The cave erupted a supernova of explosions, as my body was blazed by the scorching flames. Yet when the smoke cleared, I remained standing strong. I gently lowered my blaster, and clenched my quivering fist, as the nanobots in my body began rapidly healing the damage. “What is this black magic?” the dragon growled in terror.
“Attack me all you wish. I won’t fight back,” I sighed. “I’ve seen too many bloodbaths to cause another. Even in my agony, I refuse to scream. The cries of my slaughtered comrades have silenced my own voice. All I want is to prevent their tragic fate. To silence their desperate cries for help.”
The dragon gazed into me one more time before it lifted a wing as if gesturing us to advance. With the dragon’s approval, I slowly approached the glimmering gem pile. Though it was the crystal I needed, this time period lacked the technology to harness its full power. I carefully replaced the crystal in its slot, and my wrist flashed to life. It wouldn’t be enough to let me escape the rift, but it was enough for three trips.
A wave of weakness suddenly overflowed me, and I could feel myself fading. “We’re out of time my friend”, the wizard began, “but you have all you need.”
“How? I don’t have nearly enough charge. I don’t even know where to go, or what to do!”
“You’ll figure it out, I know you will. When you do, I’ll come to find you. I’ll be waiting for your signal, every night if I must, I'll look for you in the stars…”
A blinding flash followed as I was ripped away, flung back into my ship, trapped once again in the time rift. I paced heavily across, desperately making sense of all that happened. A wizard able to summon me from the time rift, who knew of the existence of a fate aeons ahead of his time, as well as a race of druids we would not encounter for aeons to come, and knew of me, when I had not encountered him before. He knew of my future, yet I had no recollection of his past. Unless… he was not someone of my past...but someone of my future...
“Of course!” I cried aloud. It all made sense now. I only had half the truth written. I looked at the dial on my wrist. Three trips, all the energy that remained, and all that I needed. I needed to write the other half - a visit to the star that existed before the rift, a visit to the Rettelling druids who taught me to tame the force of time, and one for the wizard who would also learn to wield its force. I set course back to Earth, to the wizard’s time once more, and slammed my hand down on my wrist to activate the time- machine. It was time for my old friend, Harken, to meet his new friend, Ace.
“I’ll look for you in the stars”. His voice echoed in my mind as I arrived. I stood before the star that existed where the time rift would keep me trapped. I had taken the wizard to the druids, just as he foretold, and had one task left to complete. I watched the red giant on the verge of a supernova. The star was at the bow of the Orion constellation. I released the crystal from the slot of my time -machine. It would trigger the supernova early and react with a blue flare. The light would take billions of years to reach Earth and would be only a mere flicker.
My calculations could’ have been off, the star could flicker years before or after the wizard’s timeline. He could even miss the tiny flicker among the millions upon billions of dots that painted the black void. But even the spark of a billion to one odds was more hope than I ever had before of defeating Zeltrex.
I transformed my bionic arm into a cannon and placed the crystal into the ammo slot. I lowered my visor and blasted the crystal at the dying star. It erupted in a blinding flash, illuminating the eternal black void as it imploded. The power was enough to outshine its entire galaxy. My body faded as I was catapulted back into the rift. My fate now could only be decided by the flow of time.
I sat slumped against the wall of my ship. My breaths thinned as the oxygen depleted; my eyes getting heavier with each passing moment I had left. My time machine was as dead as I was. Even if I were to fail my mission, I was glad that I was blessed enough to see my home one last time before it all disappeared. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to gently blink out of existence as the rift disappeared.
“You know, you could have made it easier to find you.”
I shot up straight at the voice in my spaceship. I was ashamed of myself as a soldier, nearly letting out an outburst of tears. But I couldn’t contain my excitement when I saw the wizard standing before me once again. The empty void was now surrounded in a cluster of space dust, erupting in colour all around me. I could see planets in their orbit in the distance, tracing their sun like a duckling following its mother. He had freed me from the rift.
But I clenched my fist, watching the distant lights fade one after the other. “It’s coming”, I growled. “It knows I’ve escaped, and is now heading this way. Zeltrex is coming.” The wizard looked at me sternly, hiding the terror that rushed through him.
“I hope you’re ready for battle, because this will determine the future of mankind, and all of galactic civilization yet to form.”
I raced towards the control console and powered up my ship. I gazed down at the inert time machine on my wrist, then responded with a smug smile to the wizard’s bewildered expression. “The reason Zeltrex didn’t kill me, why it let me live while it killed billions, was because it knew that I would win when the two of us would face. And killing me would not save its life, as history cannot be changed, and time always finds a way to organize itself. So it trapped me in the rift to delete me from existence. And now that I know why I’m alive, we have all that we need to defeat it.”
“But how do we stop an omnipotent being? How do we kill an unkillable soldier?” I glanced back into the wizard’s eye’s one last time, seeing the future of a flourishing galaxy once more as I responded. “I’m going to face Zeltrex head-on in its present. I need you to travel to its past and face it there.”
"What good would that do? You said history was unchangeable by small actions, that it would always correct itself and time couldn't be rewritten."
"We're not going to rewrite history. We only need to write our future. And it all begins from here on. I have an idea…”