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The Burden of Time

the burden of time

Estimated reading time — 6 minutes

It’s the 21st December. I know this because Emmanuel teaches me to read the sky. That’s how the ancient civilisations navigated the globe, even before the days of maps they had the sky. Seven years was all it had taken since the announcement that it was ‘the end’.

The end of civilisation as we knew it, the end of governments, the end of borders and countries, the end of humanity. Part of the fallout from global warming that we could never have prepared for was the disease. Diseases that had lain dormant in the permafrost. The
indigenous people of Siberia had long made fortunes searching for the preserved corpses of Woolly Mammoths and their ivory treasures, buried in the bogs and ice of the Yamal peninsula. As that permafrost melted though they brought back more than prehistoric tusks to their villages. The sickness spread fast, from villages to towns, towns to cities, cities to country and country to continent.

The disease spread around the world like wildfire, which funnily enough had already been spreading around the world. Global warming was at the heart of most problems facing humanity. Australia was the first continent to fall, hardly surprising given that the vast majority was just a dry, arid inhospitable land to begin with. With fires also kicking off yearly in the Amazon rain forest, plumes of carbon dioxide fed the fires either side of the earth, like an impossible game of Pacific Ocean ping pong. The heat increased. The fires worsened.

The heat increased.

With the heat unbearable around the equator people fled their homes, their countries. Over population made it too easy for the viruses to spread and humanity was doomed. The space programs had been a success, they started sending ships up with our money, with our knowledge, with the last ounce of humanity. Those left were few and far between, ravaged by illness, entire communities dried out and burnt by the intense heat of the summer. It was difficult to say why we survived, there was no collective intelligence, not like there had been throughout the golden ages of technology. Electricity was no longer available, news couldn’t even travel via conventional methods. For all we knew, we were the last people on earth.
Were we disheartened by the fact, no chance. Did we know where we were heading? Not exactly. Chance of survival? Statisticians were all presumed dead.

As the world warmed up, the weather became much more volatile. Great Britain was a sinking ship, battered by rising seas, floods and tornados. I left by boat with about thirty others, but the sickness was with us. Through the night, anyone even deemed to be symptomatic was tossed overboard by the men who owned the boat. It made no difference, they were already dead. I thought I was dead. The viruses had killed indiscriminately, yet somehow it seems I was immune. Somehow, we weren’t affected in the same way. I had met with Emmanuel and Jabarl in Amsterdam. It had seemed like a logical progression from the ports of Rotterdam, the Africans had Travelled up through Italy and headed to the one place they knew, or at least Jabarl had visited the city as a boy. Visiting your dream destinations often delivered no more than disappointment in the new, empty world. The folk from the boat had all but disbanded over the course of three months either succumbing to the sickness, travelling on into Europe or simply vanishing in the night.

Before the total loss of communication rumours had circulated that the Large Hadron Collider on the border of Switzerland and France was operating as a gated community for the immune. We desperately needed answers, just for our own sanity if nothing more. The decision was made that we should travel there to find out if there was any substance to these claims. According to maps we were just short of five hundred miles away. If we walked, it would probably take a week. Bikes were an option, but terrain could be an issue.

The roads were not in good condition since nobody had been maintaining them, they were often covered with silt and strewn with foliage that had crept back through the tarmac to reclaim the land. The abundance of bikes was handy for local foraging, but not so great for longer trips. We decided to walk, taking one bike to push and carry a load.

We planned the journey for March. There was no real urgency, we always edged with caution. Previous escapades resulted with us turning back after a few days on the road, we’d never really had a plan though, just a want to move on. We gathered up supplies, our
main source of food was rabbit. There were thousands, everywhere. As the human population had dwindled the animals came further into the cities. This did mean there were bears around, not often enough to be an issue, but enough that we had to remain vigilant
when travelling. We cooked the meat off, it’d last longer that way. We prepared enough water for a few days, we could always rely on boiling off more from the waterways should we run out. With the saddle bags loaded we headed off on the morning of March 3rd

The journey took nine days in total. We moved at a steady pace, camped out in abandoned buildings and rummaged about for anything that could be of use. Most shops had been looted beyond recognition many years before and even the tinned food had mostly rotted
away. We knew this, so didn’t bother wasting the energy. Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance. We were stocked enough. There was no sign of life anywhere between Amsterdam and France. Not even the remotest remnants of life. Our arrival at the LHC was
immediately that of disappointment, there didn’t appear to be anyone. We checked through down a hatch, what we found inside was darkness. We hadn’t thought it through. The thing was completely underground, we had no torches. Fire wasn’t an option, if you manage to get a mile in and it goes out, you’re screwed. There was fuck all for miles around, why ha we come here? Then Emmanuel locked in on the horizon. He’d seen movement. Sure enough there was somebody there walking towards us. Jabarl dropped the bike and we walked out towards the stranger. He was now waving his hand in the air. As he got closer and came into focus I recognised him as a white male, of probably forty to fifty years old. He had greying hair and beard, all overgrown but groomed and he was shouting in what I recognised as German. He greeted us in German but quickly switched to an incredibly convincing English language and accent after I called out “hello”. Our host it turns out, was an actual scientist from the LHC, his name was Dr August Herschlag.

Dr Herschlag had been living in the town of Sous Le Chateau since the beginning of CERN’s project. He explained that there had indeed been a community living in the area for long after the pandemic although they weren’t immune, just secluded enough to avoid infection.
Somehow the disease had arrived and taken the lives of all but him. He’d been emitting radio transmissions for as long as the power had remained active but as the world shut down around him he could no longer continue, convinced he was the last man on earth destined to suffer an eternal hell for the wrath that they had brought upon humanity. The wrath he spoke of was in fact the work carried out by CERN at the Large Hadron Collider.

What came next out of the professor’s mouth blew everything apart. The experiments carried out at the LHC had been a success. The results of this ‘success’ came at a grave cost to the earth and its inhabitants. In 2016 the particle accelerator accelerated us into some
sort of alternative universe. Nobody noticed, it took the scientists a week. The earth had changed on its axis. This is why the permafrost melted, this is why fires raged out of control.

Not only that, but a different reality had seemingly become the new norm for planet earth. Things were now running backwards. Dr Herschlag went on, the rise of the far right and subsequent Nazi revolutions in America mirrored events in Nazi Germany. History was
repeating itself, but in a warped distorted image and at a rate five times as fast as it’d run forwards. As much as this sounded like the ramblings of a madman, I’d seen and heard enough over the previous years to know that anything is possible. I’d been sharing the city
of Amsterdam almost exclusively with two African gentlemen and the occasional bear for the last three years. In further confirmation of this insanity’s factual substance Emmanuel asked Dr Herschlag how much of the universe had changed. As a man who read the sky,
he’d noticed changes in star positions. He had imagined that it was all in his head, or perhaps the atmosphere of the earth was somehow distorting his view. Sirius, the dog star had become two very distinct stars now and had moved closer to Orion’s belt. Dr Herschlag explained that Sirius was a binary star system, a rare phenomenon where two stars had pulled into each-others field of gravity, one orbits the other, moving ever closer together destined to meet an untimely demise when they eventually join in a cosmic collision of unimaginable spectacle, visible with the naked eye from earth. Yet now with time reversed, they were drifting apart.

As night-time closed in we camped out, it was a clear night and using star charts from Dr Herschlag’s home in the village he and Emmanuel checked off constellations and other key visual cues in the sky. Everything was falling apart and faster than we had dared to imagine.

By estimated calculation Dr Herschlag predicted we may have travelled billions of years back in time already. All rational thought was out the window. Why were we still here? What was next? If we just travelled back in time by several billion years, what was time now?

CREDIT : Rob Mason

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