We were in a state of impending war. The entire country was locked down and time was short if we wanted to do anything. People didn't work much for entertainment these days, mostly they worked in order to survive or to support the war effort, such as it was. The greater majority of the people in the country stayed home and worked from their domiciles.
Martial Law hadn't been instituted, really, but people didn't exactly have a desire to get out. Terrorism was everywhere we looked and people who left their homes were dying left and right. Groceries were delivered to people's doorsteps in armored tanks by the military because supermarkets had become favorite targets of the terrorist networks. We couldn't go to sleep at night without hearing explosions in the distance- the war had been brought to our home soil and the enemy was everywhere within our borders.
We thought we could live with it. We thought the consequences would be easy to cope with. But she knew better and so did I. We were working diligently on a device that could transport us through time- not by any great distance in time, mind you. The prototype would only send one person back a few hours. Ours was simply a test run.
Of course, we had to pick the absolute worst day of the year to test it: election day. The President got on the radio and on the TV all over the country to implore us, the citizens, to forage out into the streets and vote. He called it our "noble fight for freedom, that to stay in our homes on election day would be to admit defeat and cripple our country."
I had no intentions of voting that day- there were more important things on my mind at the time. You see, I was supposed to meet myself at a fixed location to make sure that our prototype time machine worked. We were only hours away from completion. My partner, a woman I loved in a strange way but could never admit it, was back at our lab, putting the finishing touches on the machine. I had no idea if meeting a future version of myself, even for a few minutes, would mean anything significant or not to the space-time continuum, but I didn't want to take any chances around the device. So I was scheduled to meet myself in an open area where there wouldn't be many people.
As I drove to my destination, I noticed lots of planes streaking overhead. This seemed odd to me. The country has been at war for only three years now, but I haven't seen jets flying in our airspace yet. Something must have been brewing. Traffic was horrible because most of the citizens took the President's address to heart and were out in force to vote. I was worried that I'd be late in meeting myself because the traffic was so bad.
I remember crossing a bridge and just getting to the far side of it when the explosion hit- the other side of the bridge went up in a massive fury of cars, debris, concrete and fire. I'm not sure how many lives were lost in the explosion, but when I looked back to see the carnage I saw cars still careening about in the air, like some kid had tossed his Matchbox cars skyward by the handfulls, then spin wildly as they arched downward and splashed into the water.
I didn't stop, but continued to press on for my destination. If I could just meet myself and prove that the machine worked, Marie and I could go back and retool the prototype so that it'd send someone back further in time. We wanted to stop the war before it had begun, but we needed to know that it would be possible first. Helicopters loomed in the sky as they screamed towards the bridge that had been bombed- military investigators who would determine which terrorist organisation had done the deed, no doubt. They would act fast and respond faster.
I finally reached my destination, a park area that seemed to be in juxtaposition from the war. The park was still green and relatively untouched by the war. Of course, no birds or squirrels scurried about because they'd headed for more forested areas, but the trees were still there and looked beautiful- a reminder to me of what the world once was as opposed to the destruction that had swathed a path through my country.
I got out of my car and approached a picnic area which looked like a building without any walls. More explosions pealed the air like thunder in the distance. I could still hear cars zooming around, full of citizens casting their votes and heading immediately back to the safety of their homes. A military vehicle approached me, curious as to why I was there by myself. A sergeant got out of the mini tank-like vehicle and started barking questions at me: who was I, why was I there, do I have proper identification, why aren't I voting... yada yada.
Suddenly the air got cold and the pressure seemed to drop a thousand points and things got warped sort of, like the universe was about to sneeze. Daylight faded around us and then, just as quickly as it had begun, it stopped. A new voice filled the sergeant's and my ears- my own voice. The future version of my self, from three hours ahead, stood there and told the soldiers to leave the area at once- there would be another severe attack soon and they would be needed elsewhere. He gave times and locations and had a look about himself (myself?) that exuded sincerity. For some reason the sergeant accepted "my" orders and left the two of us alone. My future self approached me slowly. He looked like he hadn't been to sleep in days, which is true because I hadn't slept in days.
"Don't worry about the test," he told me. "Marie and I are looped in time. Try to get out of the loop by leaving this damn town. The war can't end unless you do. I don't have time to explain anything, but I need to tell you that you should just leave. There will be other days for the test. It works. Just get out of here and save our asses."
I wanted to reply, to ask a dozen questions, but that strange sneeze effect took hold again and before I could say anything he was gone. In his place stood Marie. She looked equally tired, but also had scars. She looked older somehow.
"I'm dying," she told me simply, before I could ask. "We got out of the loop you told me about, but when we moved there was another attack- in San Francisco on December 16, 2005. You were killed and the prototype was destroyed. For me, it's now four years later and I've been infected with something-"
Another sneeze effect and a soldier snapped into existence behind her. Then another and another and another until, moments later, we were surrounded by armed men.
"They're going to kill me," she said. "We can't stop this war. It has to go on and on until there's nobody willing to fight anymore. It can't be stopped. It was foolish to try. I love you."
A series of gunshots rang out and I watched her body dance like a marionette without strings as they killed her, these soldiers from the future. Her body was gone before it even hit the ground. The soldiers disappeared, too.
I raced back to my car to return to the test area, where Marie was powering down the prototype time machine. Traffic, if you can believe it, was worse now. It was getting dark, the twilight time of day and night making the explosions seem like sick fireworks. The media quit taking death tolls last year because the loss of human life was nearly impossible to gauge now- the attacks had become more frequent.
Jets streaked above me again, this time headed for the area that our lab was at. I had to find an alternate route home because the bridge was still out. Time, what a funny concept, was getting even shorter for me. I had to make it home and get Marie and the prototype out of there ASAP. My gut told me that if I waited too long then all would be lost.
I got home and found it empty. Marie, the prototype, the research... everything was gone. The house was in perfect order, except for the fact that everything I was there to retrieve was elsewhere. A call on my cell phone came through- it was Marie. She was waiting on the outskirts of town for me, with all of our stuff. She gave me the location of the mile-marker she was stopped by and told me to hurry. She'd somehow gotten a message on her own cell phone, from her future self, telling her to pack up and leave. Apparently, the future Marie hadn't died in vain.
I raced to the place where Marie was at and just as I pulled up I noticed another future version of myself standing next to her, hugging her and saying something in her ear. Then he was gone- no sneeze effect this time. I guess we'd somehow ironed out that part.
Marie looked afraid and sheet white with a secret knowledge, like she'd seen a ghost (perhaps, in a way, she had). I asked her what "I" had told her and she simply told me not to ask her again, that it was private and she wasn't ready to talk about it yet. I respected her wishes and we left the town in a beat-up van with all of our equipment in it. We didn't even have time to pack a change of clothes, so we were wearing what we had on our backs and had no money.
We will see what tomorrow brings.