by Peter Roberts
It’s been two weeks now since I saw anybody else. I can’t stand it anymore. The loneliness is getting to me. Even when there were only a handful of us left I didn’t feel isolated. Now there is no one to talk to, no one to reassure me that I’m doing the right thing – no one else at all. It’s too much to bear. So despite all my doubts and misgivings, I have no real choice but to follow the crowd into that supposedly wonderful future.
Of course, the idea always held a certain appeal: Migrate to the future, full of technological marvels, solutions to all our problems, cures for all our ailments and infirmities. Be part of a better, more perfect world, an eternity of political stability and prosperity, with peace, justice for all, maybe even immortality.
It all sounded good, but I’m a realist (pessimist, my friends would say), so I wasn’t buying it. I’m cautious, distrustful: I prefer the known to the unknown, the comfortable to the challenging. And one thing I do know is that, when people are involved, something is bound to go wrong. Whether through war, environmental calamity, cultural conflict, or economic collapse, we surely will find some way to screw up the future.
So I resolved to stay put in the present. And, at first, I wasn’t the only one. A substantial number of us stayed behind. Life was pretty great for a while. With so few people and so much stuff, we could all have almost anything we desired. And since nearly all production and most services are automated these days, an occasional bit of maintenance was all that was needed to keep everything running. Mostly, we didn’t have to do anything we didn’t want to do. Talk about a life of luxury!
But eventually our numbers started to dwindle. One person would miss friends or relatives too much, another would worry that they really were missing out on something wonderful, and soon enough they too had departed for the future.
And as more people left, the whole process accelerated. That’s the damned thing about the pseudo-Tipler time portal – it’s a one-way trip: once you go to the future, you can’t come back.
As I said, I can’t stand being the last one anymore. So it has to be either suicide or the future, and since death seems like the greater unknown, I guess I’m off to the future, however bad it may be.
Echoes are everywhere as I step through the doors of the transport chamber. The interior is huge, big enough to accommodate ten thousand people at once – it was mass migration at first, and the devices were too expensive to allow very many to be built, so each one is monumental. It’s a little overwhelming, intimidating even, for just one person.
Enough procrastination. Might as well get it over with. All I have to do is push the red button, everything else is automatic. So . . . here goes.
The only thing that dazzles me as I step out is sunlight. No wondrous city, no flying cars, and no one to greet me. Damn it. I knew it. I knew something would go wrong with the future, that’s why I didn’t want to go.
But it doesn’t look like the aftermath of a disaster. In fact, it looks lush and green, in some ways quite pleasant. It just doesn’t look like the future. And I wonder where everyone is. What happened to them? Should I be worried? After all, worry is what comes naturally to me.
I can’t figure out anything else to do, so I start walking.
Soon enough, I notice smoke rising between some trees in the distance. This looks promising, so I walk towards the smoke, eventually coming upon a rather primitive village – mud streets, log buildings, and everything dirty, and rather smelly, too.
A young man notices my presence and ambles towards me, an odd sort of scowl on his face.
“So, another eager, hopeful pilgrim, about to have his hopes dashed.”
“More reluctant than eager. But I couldn’t stand the loneliness of being the only person around, so here I am, despite my trepidations.”
“So that is it. We had a bunch of ideas about what went wrong, but mostly we’ve been converging on the theory you represent. That would seem to settle it.”
“Wait, I don’t get it. What do I represent?”
“You’re the last one out of the pool. Nobody left. A thousand years without humans. No one to maintain basic infrastructure, let alone make the breakthroughs that would have led to that bright and shining future we all expected. A thousand years for all the lights to burn out, all the buildings to crumble and corrode. A thousand years for nature to push back into all those places we’d pushed it out of, for wilderness to take over again. No food or shelter when we arrived. No way to prevent the violence or control the epidemics. So those few of us who managed to survive the initial chaos had no choice but to start over from the absolute beginning. We went to the future, but we might as well have gone to the past – the distant past.
“Some folks worried that, true to our history, over a thousand years we might really mess things up, create a disaster just by being ourselves. We created a disaster all right. But this time the disaster was our absence.”
Peter Roberts is a mathematically educated poet who sometimes writes fiction. He has been contributing to various magazines and journals, online & off, for more than 45 years. See his slightly dated personal page, god-and-country.info/personal.html, where you can find links to lists of all his published poems & stories, if you look carefully. Some may find the rest of the website interesting as well.
This story began with the thought that the classic Time Travel Paradox might not apply with one-way, irreversible forward movement in time. It soon became apparent, however, that there could still be unintended consequences, especially if people followed typical human self-centered morality. Ultimately, if everyone wins, no one wins — and in this instance, everyone loses.