Author: Celso Almeida
On the crisp evening of February 9th, 1986, Leo, a 13-year-old with a passion for astronomy, stood in his backyard, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Halley’s Comet. The new moon cast a perfect stage for Leo’s celestial observations, a moment he had anticipated since he first became fascinated with the universe, inspired by the captivating episodes of “Cosmos”, with Carl Sagan.
The night was clear, stars shining brightly, and the comet’s tail visible in the dark sky. Leo absorbed the details his dad had shared about the ice and dust expelled from the comet’s head, creating the mesmerizing tail.
His dream of becoming an astronaut, however, had been tempered by the recent tragedy of the Challenger’s explosion just two weeks before. The vivid memory of the catastrophe, especially the loss of the crew members, lingered as Leo gazed at the celestial wonder.
Lost in his thoughts, Leo didn’t notice Sandy, his neighbor and schoolmate, approaching. With hands on her hips, Sandy greeted him, “Hey Leo, what’s up?”
Without taking his eyes off the binoculars, Leo replied, “Not much, just enjoying the view. Halley’s Comet is quite a sight.”
Sandy, intrigued, asked, “So, is that fireball up there going to hit Earth and finish us off?”
Leo began to explain, “First of all, that thing up there isn’t a ball of fire. It’s basically a mountain covered with a layer of ice, which melts when the comet approaches the Sun on its translation…”
“Trans… what?” Sandy interrupted, furrowing her brow.
“Translation; sorry, but I’m not the one who makes up the names. May I continue, miss?”
“Please, sir,” Sandy said with a playful smirk.
“As I was saying,” Leo continued, “the comet’s ice layer melts when it approaches the Sun, creating that beautiful tail we have in front of us.”
Sandy pointed at the comet, asking, “Wait a minute, Mr. Wise Guy; are you telling me that that thing over there is not a ball of fire but of ice?!”
“Exactly!” Leo declared, chin lifted in triumph. “But it’s okay to confuse it with a meteorite, the ‘ball of fire’ that falls from the sky; it’s a very common mistake.”
“Meteorite, comet… turns out you didn’t answer my question: are we all going to die soon?”
“No ma’am, you can keep making plans,” Leo finished with a chuckle.
“I think that’s really good, because I really want to go to the University,” Sandy said with wide, sparkling eyes, looking directly at Leo.
As she spoke, Leo’s mind was flooded with unexpected images—memories or fragments of dreams. A futuristic scenario unfolded before him, featuring a large, gleaming silver sphere known as the Quantum Time-Translation Machine, a time-travel device Leo and a team of brilliant minds would create in the future. Leo was getting an opportunity that very few people have in life: one more chance to do it all over again, only this time without making the same mistakes; but for everything to work out this time, Leo would have to remember the future.
Interrupting his thoughts, Sandy asked, “Leo, are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Leo, still processing the influx of information, managed a smile. “I’m fine, Sandy. Just lost in thought.”
As the Comet approached the horizon, Leo’s mother opened the kitchen door, flooding the backyard with artificial light. The moment of epiphany shattered, and Leo, blinking to adjust to the sudden brightness, said, “Bye, Sandy. See you tomorrow at school.”
Sandy lingered for a moment, taking in the cool night air, before heading home.