Author : Simon Petrie

Afar contemplates lifting something small, a souvenir, but is distracted by the conversation at the next table:

“…forgot our anniversary, so I’m sending flowers back.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?”

“You kidding? It’s just one day. Not going to affect anything, except avoid an argument.”

“Still don’t see why they allow it. Bloody dangerous, you ask me.”

“Na, we’re protected by paradox. Anyone wanted to change the past, badly, far enough back, things shift so that person didn’t exist, or time travel hadn’t been invented. Then that action wouldn’t have occurred; past doesn’t change. Machine just seizes, briefly, if someone tries that. But anyhow … you reckon roses or daffs?”

“Why ask me? She’s your wife.”

Afar stands up and leaves. Hopes he still looks inconspicuous, though it really doesn’t matter anymore. It’s not possible to grab a souvenir: salt cellar, spoon, whatever. Not simply disallowed, not possible. There’ll be memories, at most, even if he survives. It’s a pity. He’s learnt much of this culture over the past months. His intended actions are necessary, he knows; yet he feels remorse, frustration at the cost in time, sheer uncertainty. Stage fright. Nerves.

Down the street, he passes a kiosk. They’re everywhere, time travel has blossomed. Natural-disaster fatalities are rare now; missed appointments a thing of the past. (There is talk, even, of grandiose new pathways in spaceflight: install a kiosk on a spaceship; send crew, equipment, and braking fuel ahead to just before arrival.) The kiosks are busy, heavily policed.

Afar, also, has time travel business today, but what he intends won’t work on any other time machine in the world. He’s brought his own device, folded in his heavy briefcase.

He reaches the park. A cold day, overcast, easy enough to find a deserted spot. He opens the case, assembles his machine. Nobody here is going to recognise it as a time machine. It resembles an easel.

The case contains also six dull metal globes, the size of croquet balls, but heavier, and cold. Antimatter, painstakingly contained. Payload. He aligns them along the machine’s waist-high tray, locks them in position, loads coordinates.

It’s taken him months to prepare: the orbital mechanics require incredible precision. Pin-point accuracy, within a few kilometres’ depth, across a six-million-year gulf. He’s aiming for twelve kilometres down: six antimatter grapefruit, evenly spaced along the fault underlying the rift valley from which he’s chosen his alias. Afar. Ethiopia. Home of the proto-hominids. It should go almost magnitude 10. But the volcanic follow-through will be the real killer.

He looks around. In the distance, there’s a couple sitting on a bench; a woman dog-walking; a man and his daughter exploring the playground. Further afield, cars, sporadic aircraft, the bustling city. People going about their daily lives, wondering whether to go with roses or daffodils. As if it mattered.

He regrets the necessity to obliterate, to kill: he has deep respect for life. But life will continue, after his interruption; merely without one particular species and its invasive civilization. Probably be better for it.

He laughs a little. The man from the café would say Afar’s plan wouldn’t work. Nobody on Earth could use a time machine to retrospectively erase humanity, because that’s a paradox. And he’s right; but he’s also wrong. Nobody from earth.

Afar? He’s from Alpha Centauri, here to eliminate a potential threat to his homeworld.

He throws the switch and waits for the world to reorder itself.

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