While some characters may resemble actual people, they are used fictitiously. Actions/beliefs in this story do not represent those of actual people.
“Ben!” The brilliant, young Hawking spoke between huffs. He must have run all the way from the labs. “My initial test worked, but there was damage to the machine in the earthquake.”
“So it works, but we can’t use it?”
“I can fix it. I just need…” The ground beneath them shuddered. “… A couple hours.”
“We don’t have a couple hours,” Novikov said.
“We don’t know that,” Ben said.
“We’ve done it before.” Hawking turned to run back toward the labs. “Should be a piece of cake!”
Ben wished he felt a fraction of Hawking’s optimism. He and Novikov continued to Anturtle Bay to reconvene with the others. As they neared the building, they heard a cry from their right.
Investigating, they found the quake had torn a rift in the peninsula. The cries came from the fresh trench. Ben and Novikov ran to the edge and crouched. Khan, the Saudi Arabian, clung from the edge. The ground below him was visible but too great a distance to fall and survive.
“Can we help?” Ben asked.
“If it’s not too much trouble,” Khan said.
Ben and Novikov pulled Khan out of the trench and let him regain his feet.
“Thank you.” Khan placed a hand over his heart and bowed his head. “Shall we return?”
The three men headed back to the building.
“We’re getting reports from every Union,” Burton said as they walked through the door. “Evacuation has started in the highest-risk areas, but casualties will be in the hundreds of thousands.”
“We must leave,” Novikov said. “It’s not safe to wait any longer.”
“We don’t know that this is the event,” Burton said.
“We don’t know that it’s not,” Khan said.
The room was soon full of shouting. Stay or go? Wait or do? Ben found an odd comfort in the noise. He realized he’d miss this, if both their plans failed.
A rumble, deep and growing louder, interrupted the men. The men looked to each other, wondering if they’d imagined the noise. An earthquake that didn’t shake the ground was new to all of them. Half the room burst into action.
“There’s no time to waste.” Novikov called out to the others, “To Moscow! We shall leave for Mars in eight hours.” He raced out the door.
Those from the European and Russo-Asian Unions followed him without hesitation. Only one or two made eye contact with Ben and Burton on their way out.
“May Allah help you succeed,” Khan murmured as he passed.
“What about the machine?” Johnson asked Ben.
“It was damaged,” Ben said. “Hawking needs time to repair it.”
“We can’t just sit and wait.” Johnson paced the room. He mumbled to himself, gesticulating.
Ben admitted to himself that escape was tempting. He had no wife or kids, so he’d be packed and on his jet in less than half an hour. But what if the ships had been damaged in the earthquake? What if there was an issue launching? And what would happen if the engineers couldn’t rebuild the colony? Did they want to live out their days on hastily made spacecraft?
But relying on the time machine meant waiting. Ben found himself pacing, as well.
“I can’t,” Johnson stopped and looked at Ben. “I do hope it works. But I’d rather find out while taking action. Best of luck.” He nodded to the others before rushing out of the room.
Ben stopped his pacing and stared through the door. He never thought he’d see Johnson agreeing with Novikov. With half of the representatives gone, the room felt cavernous. Ben crossed his arms.
Hawking burst into the room moments later, waving something that reflected the overhead florescent light into a dancing dot on the wall.
“Where’d everyone else go?” He stopped, holding the object, a metal ring, in front of his chest.
Hawkings shoulders dropped. “I did it, though. I fixed it and tested it. The target date and time are a go.”
“Why haven’t things gotten better, then? Traveling back should have fixed it!” Ben tensed. Should he lash out or curl up in the corner? What use was either?
“I only observed for a moment,” Hawking said. “It’s not my place to talk to him. He won’t know me.”
“He won’t know me either.”
“You’re family. His blood. He’ll listen to you.” Hawking handed Ben the object. “You need to wear it. When you’re ready, press and hold this button.” He pointed to a green stripe across the width of the cuff. “To come back, press and hold the red one.”
Ben slipped the cuff onto his left wrist. He nodded a goodbye to Burton, looked at the remaining men, and pressed the green button.
Ben stood in the middle of a hallway in front of an open door. Right where Hawking had planned. He clenched and released his fists. He entered the office and the receptionist looked up.
“Hi! Do you have an appointment with—”
“I don’t, but I need to talk to him.” Ben eyed the door leading deeper into the suite. “It’s urgent.”
“Sir.” The receptionist moved to stand between Ben and the next doorway. “Sit down and I can see if he’s available.”
“This is going to sound crazy.” Ben started, not sure how it would end. “But billions of people will die if I don’t talk to him.”
“You’re right, it sounds crazy,” the receptionist said. “Sit down or I’ll call security.”
Ben knew that as long as he didn’t sit, the receptionist wouldn’t risk leaving the doorway. This was probably his only chance to explain.
“The nomination, the election. He became president. But he was assassinated after his inauguration.”
“How could you know that?”
“His running mate was killed in a car crash a few weeks later.”
“Please sit down, sir.”
He was scaring the receptionist. They didn’t believe Ben. Ben didn’t blame them. Would he, if their roles were reversed?
“When they later found out the assassin was a Democrat—the former campaign manager of another presidential candidate, in fact—the party divided so deeply, Republicans won the elections—by a wide margin—for the next 60 years.”
“I don’t know where you came up with this wild story—”
“It’s my past. It happened. I’m from 2182. Hours before I came here, a major disaster started. Everyone says this is the one that ends the Earth. Some think there could be survivors, but most of us will die. Most of us already have. Earth’s population has dropped to the millions.”
The receptionist tilted their head and raised an eyebrow. A gray-haired man appeared in the doorway behind the receptionist.
“I’ve called security. What’s all this commotion about?”
“This guy thinks he’s from the future. He says you’re assassinated after you’re inaugurated.”
Two guards arrive. The receptionist points at Ben, and the men grab him by each arm. “Come with us, sir.”
Ben twists to look at the gray-haired man, pleading. “My name is Ben Sanders. I’m your great-great-great-great-great-grandson. This presidential race divides the Democrats beyond repair. You must fix it. We won’t survive!”
The guards drag Ben out of the office and down the hall. Ben tries to reach the cuff with his other hand, but the men’s grips tighten. He doesn’t know what’s waiting for him back home, but he doesn’t want to end up stuck in another time.
“Wait.” A voice calls from behind them.
The guards turn, and the grip on Ben’s right arm loosens. He yanks his arm free.
“I’ll see what I can do,” the gray-haired man said.
“We’ll know soon, then.” Ben pressed the red button on his cuff, returning to whatever awaited him in another time.