The world is ending tonight but it’s no big deal. The clock on the wall says we have five hours until the nuclear warhead detonates. It’s currently lodged near the magma chamber of a super volcano. The explosion will result in a crater the size of a continent. Next, a cloud of flammable gases and particles will engulf the atmosphere. It will ignite a few minutes later. The final result will be like the earth turning itself inside out and catching fire. If you’re a doomsday prepper with a bunker under your house - congratulations, you might live half a minute longer than the poor sods outside.

But like I said, it’s no big deal. Someone will figure out how to turn the warhead off in the next five hours. And if they don’t, well, we get to try again for another five hours. And again, and again, and again. You see, I’ve rigged up a little something in my lab. The initial energy released in the blast will power the anisotropic chromodynamic displacement circuitry, which is hooked up to the relativistic temporal resonator. There’ll be a flash of light, perhaps a ringing noise, and we’ll all have travelled five hours back. For the non-scientists out there: time travel is real but it requires a helluva lot of energy. If you want to jump back five hours, you need roughly the same amount of energy that is released by detonating a nuclear warhead inside a super volcano. I worked it out on the back of an envelope a couple of years ago.

Yes, I am a mad scientist.

No, the nuclear warhead was not my idea.

I’m not sure whose idea it was to be honest, or whether it’s some AI gone rogue. Three dozen heads of state are blaming each other on Twitter. The others are either hiding in their bunkers or cheering on their scientists. Somewhere in the mass of depressed PhD students, overworked associate professors, smarmy Nobel Prize winners, sarcastic lab technicians and caffeine-fuelled hackers, there must be a solution. It might be something fiendishly clever involving an artificial black hole and manipulation of earth’s magnetic field. Or perhaps a janitor will remind a pack of panicking professors that most things have an “off” switch.

There are ten minutes left, and no one has found a solution. It’s OK. My equipment is up and running and I’ve triple-checked my calculations. The only thing I can do now is wait for the apocalypse, or whatever you want to call it. Armageddon. Ragnarok. Doomsday. A small part of me is actually a little bit curious what it will be like. And whether the relativistic temporal resonator will actually work.

Fair enough, I’ll admit it. I’m more than a little curious. This is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me.

My lab is close to the super volcano. When the warhead explodes, I feel it immediately. The world ripples and it’s like I missed a step going down the stairs in the dark. Then I fall back into my chair and the clock shows five hours ago. It worked! I go over the lab quickly, but everything is in perfect working order, exactly like it was five hours ago. Or rather, like it is now.

I turn to my computer screens, eager to see what the world’s boffins will think of this time. After an hour or so, I realise they’re not doing anything new. Of course they’re not. How stupid of me! The control room of my lab has travelled back in time, along with myself and all the equipment inside it, but the rest of the world is exactly as it was five hours ago. That means that five hours of potentially world-saving scientific progress has been lost because it never existed in the first place. Fine, no problem. I can deal with that. I write a neat little bit of slightly illegal code that will collect all the relevant data from all over the world and store it on the servers in the control room. And then I sit and watch the clock creep towards the end of the world.

The sensation is less strange the second time. I hurriedly send the data I’ve collected back and wait for progress. It’s still slow. Of course it is. These scientists are a suspicious bunch. They suddenly see gigabytes of work from the future appearing on their computers and instead of grabbing it with both hands and saving the world, they try to figure out where it’s from. Idiots! The hackers aren’t much better. Thank heavens for sensation-hungry journalists who write headlines like “Back-up from the future!” and “A little help from ourselves!”.

The third jump is little more than a tingle in the back of my skull. This time when I send the back-up from the future, I add a message explaining who I am and what I’m doing. I spend the next five hours answering calls from all over the world. Who am I? How can I travel in time? Can I save the world using knowledge from the future? I explain as best as I can, and tell them to get back to work.

Four jumps. They’re making progress, I think. At least they’re no longer repeating work.

Five jumps. Six. Seven. Eight. I sleep in bursts of four hours and spend the fifth hour checking my lab and the collected data.

Nine jumps. Someone at NASA contacts the Ministries of Defence of the four closest countries. They all launch whatever explosives they’ve got, in an attempt to collapse the magma conduits and contain the explosion. It doesn’t work.

Ten jumps. A hacker from Australia claims they’ve turned the warhead off. It’s not true.

Eleven jumps. A team of researchers from Madras try something involving underground sound waves. The warhead is unaffected.

Twelve jumps. The secretary general of the United Nations is overheard saying we’re all going to die. He’s right, almost. I survive by going back five hours.

Thirteen jumps. A handful of locals with excavators attempt to dig down to the magma chamber, hoping to release some of the pressure. They’re the first to die in the blast.

Fourteen jumps. They try explosions again.

Fifteen jumps. And again.

Sixteen jumps. And again. Come on, this is clearly not working.

Seventeen jumps. I need more coffee.

Eighteen jumps. A geologist has been slowly but steadily mapping the vents and conduits of the volcano. Could this be the progress we need?

Nineteen jumps. I put the geologist in touch with the people sending explosives down into the volcano. They come up with a plan, of sorts. It’s full of flaws.

Twenty jumps. Twenty-one. Twenty-two. Twenty-three…

I fall into a routine. Jump, check the lab, return all previously collected data to scientists, sleep and/or drink coffee, collect data, jump. Repeat. I lose count of the number of jumps. I’ve had to go out to scavenge food a dozen times. My hair has grown and I have to keep brushing it out of my eyes. Somewhere under the stacks of paper on my desk is a pair of scissors. The papers are covered in a thin layer of dust. How long have I been here? I cut my hair and get back to work.


The geologist’s beautiful underground map is utterly useless. There’s simply no way to blow up the warhead without causing a volcanic eruption. It’s too close to the magma chamber. They have to try something else. An engineer opens a dam and tries to flood the volcano. It doesn’t help. All it does is add a steam explosion.


Seven and a half billion people on the planet, and no one knows what to do.




December 19, 2019 22:39

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Lee Kull
03:02 Jan 02, 2020

I love this story! What a great concept. I like the moral, too. I think the only thing that would make it even better would be if itwas longer and had a proper ending. Thank you for sharing, and Happy New Year. - Lee


11:09 Jan 04, 2020

Thank you for the comment! I'll keep it in mind for the next story!


Lee Kull
05:03 Jan 06, 2020

Happy writing!


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