How did I survive the apocalypse?
Cindra stared into the endless black sky. The green and purple auroras were still flashing beneath the white anomaly illuminating the rocks from the rogue planet raining from the spatial anomaly above them. The ground had stopped shaking. She found that she could move again; she could breathe. She inhaled the metallic smell of the collapsing world and rose to her feet to study the dark ruins.
What have I done?
Cindra blinked, and she was standing in the sun. It was the day of her doctoral hooding. Her father smiled as he handed her a crystal globe keyring that held the key to her new house on the family estate. Her parents had the cottage at the back of the plot next to the creek renovated for her. It had been a playhouse for her as a child, and now it was her home. Her own place to retreat and relax after her workday as a theoretical physicist at the nearby university was done.
Your key to the world. Use it wisely, he said.
Cindra hugged him as she gripped the warm crystal reflecting light around her. The world was hers. She was working with the foremost experts in theoretical physics. She was given a choice between continuing her string theory studies or joining a newly formed team to study spatial distortions. She chose to continue with string theory.
She blinked again, and the darkness returned. The ruins of the university, of the city, of the world, lay at her feet, reminders of her guilt for opening a door that should have never been opened.
Another blink. Now it was five years ago. There were strange readings in Antarctica. It was different from the ones that were discovered in 2016 and 2018. There was something new about it: not only neutrinos but energy signatures and trace elements foreign to the planet. She consulted with other experts in the field. She applied her theories and research. The neutrinos continued to bombard the area, and they detected something amazing: it was coming from above, not below. There was a spatial anomaly approximately six million miles over Antarctica.
Cindra rubbed her eyes and blinked, and the darkness returned. She looked up to see the anomaly, no longer a wide gash splitting the southern sky, but shrinking back to a pulsating spot. The bridge between the worlds had failed. Neither were saved. They were both dead.
How am I still here?
No stars glowed in the sky. No moon. Nothing but darkness, flashing auroras, scattered rock, and that single pulsating light from the anomaly on a countdown to the end of time. Her foot kicked against something that rolled away from her. She followed it to find the crystal keyring her father gave her, faintly glowing in the darkness.
The key to the world. Use it wisely.
How did this wind out here? She kept the keyring on an ornament hanger next to her computer in her office. It reminded her of Dad’s charge to use her knowledge and skills wisely. She picked it up, amazed that it didn’t break as the world broke. It didn’t even have any scratches. A faint light seemed to glow from the center of the crystal.
Look at me know, Cindra thought as she blinked again.
It was two years ago. She was at her father’s graveside service, stoically staring at the casket as the pastor spoke to the crowd. She gripped the keyring. Her colleague studying spatial distortions retired, and she had been offered the position upon return from her bereavement leave. She squeezed the keyring, willing her father’s spirit to give her guidance, but all she got was the hot wind blowing through the tent.
Maybe I should let it go. Drop it in the ground and move on.
She tightened her grip on the cool crystal and walked away, cursing cancer that took his life.
There had to be an explanation. For her father’s loss, for the anomaly, for everything. She stayed with her research, determined to find some reason, some hope, some sign that life would make sense again. She declined the transfer and studied the data. The anomaly had grown. There were more neutrinos. More curious readings. More energy and microscopic elements seeped through that anomaly that they couldn’t explain. She proposed sending a probe into the anomaly with a message to see if they got readings or better yet, a response. Her supervisors said no. She persisted, but her own research team dismissed her as “compromised by grief” and ignored her pleas, relegating her to sit in her office and stare at readings on her computer while they processed data and waited to see what happened.
Cindra took a deep breath, squeezed the keyring, and blinked away tears. The darkness returned. Her feet bumped something again, this time broken bodies on the ground. Broken bodies were everywhere, as far as the eye could see. She remembered the rush of people from the building as the anomaly opened, its light blotted out by the rogue planet emerging in the sky. Except it wasn’t any planet. It was their own. It was Earth, but not their Earth. It was an Earth of another universe.
Cindra blinked. It was three months ago. She was sitting in her office at eight o’clock on a Thursday evening. They had been monitoring the spatial anomaly and had discovered a pattern to its transmissions. It spiked approximately every three months, raining down more neutrinos and foreign elements on them. Right on time, it opened and she smiled as real-time data flowed through her screen. This was her chance. She needed to catch it in progress one time to study the energy signatures of the anomaly at its peak activity level. Then she could prepare a message and send it through the Earth satellite systems the next time it opened. She knew she could do it. Everybody in the scientific community was so focused on what was coming out of the anomaly that they didn’t pay attention to what was going in from our end. Cindra ran her scans and watched the data flow, her face glowing in the blue of the screen as the event unfolded. She leaned back, stretched, closed her eyes, and sighed when it was done.
The darkness returned. Cindra sank to her knees on the broken ground, tears rolling down her cheeks. She was a poor steward of this world. This was her fault. Her plan worked, to the demise of all. She squeezed the keyring.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” she sobbed.
A light glowed through her fingers. She opened her hand to see the light growing in the center of the keyring. It cast sparkling light and rainbows around her. Cindra blinked away her tears and stood, staring at the light.
It was last night. The counter on her computer ticked down to the start of the next event. When it hit zero, she hit the transmit button.
A soft ping sounded on her computer speakers. She sat up and clicked on her email. It was a video. She gasped as it began to play.
The face staring back at her was her own.
“Cindra, if you see this then please listen. You must close this anomaly. String theory is real, but it should not be tampered with. My experiments have broken time and the fabric of reality. Now the points where the strings cross are collapsing, and the expansion of the universe has stopped. We have to stop this by closing this door. Otherwise, it’s the end of everything.
“I received your message. If you figured out how to send it, then you can close your end of the anomaly. I’m sending you schematics to launch an energy wave from your universe that will collapse your end of the anomaly and stabilize space/time in your universe. Activate it quickly.
“If you don’t have the technology to do this, activate the time key. Use it wisely.”
The screen went blank.
Use it wisely?
Cindra leaned forward and studied the schematics attached to the message. Trembles wracked her body as she studied it. It required an energy wave like she used to send her signal, but she also needed something to harness neutrinos and energy from their own sun to counteract the energy from the anomaly. She didn’t have anything that could do that! All they had done for the past two years was study readings. The technology to close the anomaly didn’t exist. She clicked the properties of the message to find the date and time stamp when the video and message were created. They read July 8, 2577.
That’s 555 years in the future! This anomaly wasn’t just a spatial distortion, it was a time distortion! Those strange readings and elements were coming from a complete break in reality. It was a rift across all known planes of existence. The woman in that video could be her, or a relative from a future that would collapse if she didn’t do something fast.
Cindra picked up her cell phone to contact her supervisor but was surprised to find a “no signal” message flashing across the top of the screen. She picked up her office phone but dropped it as the ground shook.
She jumped from her chair and ran to her office window. Purple and green lights flashed in the sky against a wide ribbon of light in the sky. People were running in the street, screaming as the ground shook. Traffic lights collapsed, and power lines sparked. The power went out.
Activate the time key. Use it wisely.
A faint sparkle caught Cindra’s peripheral vision. She grabbed the keyring and ran down the stairs, joining the fray in the street. The lights in the sky darkened as everything rumbled. Rocks pelted the ground. Earth emerging from the anomaly. People stopped and followed her stare as they watched a mirror image of their own planet – from 555 years in the future – emerge from the anomaly.
Screams filled the air as larger rocks fell from the sky, pelting people and collapsing structures. Cindra gasped for breath as she was carried by the crowd. Lights flashed from the sky as the ground broke under their feet. Buildings fell. She tripped over bodies as the rocks from the broken moon and planet above rained on the fracturing planet. Something popped. She saw flashes of light and felt blood seeping down the side of her head before everything went black.
Sparkling light surrounded her as she stood amongst the broken bodies. Where did she go wrong? What opened the door?
The key to the world. Use it wisely.
Cindra smiled as she heard her father’s voice. A tear dripped down her cheek. She knew the answer. She knew what to do. She wrapped the warm keyring in her hands, held it to her face, and blinked in the rising light.
She was at her father’s graveside service. Cindra walked to her father’s casket. Her insides clenched as she stared at the keyring in her hand.
I can’t change reality. I don’t really control it. I can only choose to let go and grow into that decision.
“I love you, Dad. I’ll take good care of the world in a different way.”
Where did he get this keyring?
He never said, and it didn’t matter. All she knew was that it only reflected the light, but she wasn’t a reflection any more. It’s time to be the light.
Cindra opened her fingers and dropped the keyring. It thumped off the vault and rolled into the earth.
“Cindra, I’m sorry for your loss.”
Cindra turned to see her boss standing behind her. She wiped a tear from her eye. “Is the transfer to spatial anomaly studies still available?”
He looked puzzled. “Yes, but don’t you want to think about it? This is a difficult day; too difficult to make a life-changing decision.”
“What better time is there to change fate? Every ending is a new beginning. I want the transfer. I accept.”
He shook her hand. “Very well. I hate to lose you, but I understand. We’ll get this started first thing Monday morning.”
Cindra raised her head and looked at the golden sunlight in the clear blue sky. She didn’t know what the future held, but at least they had one. No more reflections. No more theories. No more grabbing control of what can’t be manipulated. It was time to stop fighting reality and accept it. It was time for her to become real, to be real, and embrace all that is real.
It was a good beginning.
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I like how you used her blinking for the flashbacks, it worked really well. Fascinating story.
Sherri, another good story. It's a huge concept you're playing with and I found it a tad confusing, although in the end the story works I think as you help the reader get comfortable flitting through time so that the details in understanding the science became less necessary. Your descriptions made it enjoyable to read. I like your use of the prompt.