The time traveler opened his eyes. It was a morning just like every other—eerily quiet, in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city outside his house. He poked his holographic clock, and it announced that it was 6 am on day 231, like always. He glanced at the five pointed star imprinted onto his arm, got out of bed and started his morning routine.
As he ate his breakfast, he looked outside his window at the shimmering force field enveloping his city. He had no reason to, of course, but by then, it had become a habit. A wave of energy spread across the dome, sending sparks flying from its surface. It sounded like thunder. A fly had probably flown into it and become instantly vaporized. It happened a lot.
The building’s exit materializer positioned him on the street in front of his house. It also changed him out of his nightwear and into comfortable exercise clothing. His house had guessed correctly that he was outside so early in the morning to do some heavy physical activity. He reached into his pocket and breathed out a sigh of relief when he found a solid, heavy object there. It was illegal to possess, after all. The authorities hadn’t done their daily scan of his possessions yet.
Even though it was early in the morning, he still needed to give his eyes a few seconds to adjust. The bright white buildings around him and their shiny, reflective windows were blinding in the sunlight. The city’s protective force field dome stopped everything from getting through it—even light and energy. To ensure that the city’s climate stayed stable, the dome created its own weather—and it was always set to Midday Mild.
He ducked into a well-lit alleyway to avoid a Holographic Helper. With all of his city’s technological advances, illegal activities were becoming more difficult, but not impossible. He needed to keep moving, because a security camera outside definitely saw him running for cover. He glanced at his arm’s five pointed star. He had already been caught by a patrol coming to check on him before. It was unpleasant for him.
A quick shot of his Laser Grapnel at a wall yanked him up by his hand, sending him flying upward. He had a lot of previous experience with this particular mode of transport, but it was still his first time, so it still came as a bit of a shock to him when he stopped his upward descent by planting his feet solidly against the cold white wall in front of him. He disengaged his grapnel and extended his legs, sending him flying backward off the wall, but it was okay—he quickly shot at the wall opposite his and used his momentum to flip up onto the roof above it. He tried to land on his feet, but he landed on his back instead. He was used to getting around with a grapnel, but at this point in time, his fashionably overweight body definitely wasn’t.
With the help of his grapnel, he lept from rooftop to rooftop, weaving between the streams of information and data traveling alongside him. They weaved through the city underneath him, whispering about a string of recent murders involving severe head injuries, providing details about burglaries of the rich and famous, advertising shiny new cars, describing other heinous crimes, and sharing the newest dieting craze that was sweeping across the city. They all originated from the large tower in the middle of his city—the Central Administrative Spire. It wasn’t just the city’s technological hub. It was the center of practically everything in it. Even the protective dome was generated by a machine at the top of it. Nearly every job in the city helped maintain the spire in some way or another, whether it was construction, calculations, commerce, or even just cooking for workers there.
He could hear sirens behind him, coming from the direction of his house. He had missed his work tram. They probably thought he was dead. He started running across the rooftops. Once their search warrants were approved and they discovered that he was actually missing, they would start sending out drones to search his neighborhood. He needed to get as far away as he could before that happened.
He was slightly winded when he arrived at a building at the edge of the crater the spire floated over. The spire was a large, geometric chunk of reflective metal, but he knew that a little further into the crater, it dropped its polished facade. Its bottom was a mass of concrete and pipes with valves that opened and closed with an uneven rhythm.
The crater itself was surrounded by a large, circular boulevard, with some cross-streets that jutted a couple feet over the edge, ending in specifically constructed gates. They didn’t actually have anything behind them. They dematerialized everything passing through it, transmitting them into the bowels of the spire as information ready to be analyzed and materialized again on the inside.
The time traveler watched as cars and people streamed into and out of the gates below him. There seemed to be less people wandering around the city than usual. He wondered where everyone was doing. He returned his attention to the gates. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to use them recently. The last time he tried, he was sorted into an interrogation room. It was embarrassing.
He pointed his grapnel directly at the spire and yanked himself off his building. Before he reached the spire, he disengaged his laser and plummeted into the crater below. He counted to fourteen and fired his grapnel upward. He had failed this maneuver a couple times before, but it was ingrained in his memory now.
The large waste material drainage pipe next to him opened up right on cue, and a glowing blue substance slowly oozed out of it. It was probably radioactive, but he grappled into the pipe and started swimming his way into the spire anyways. It didn’t have any immediately effect on him, at least, and if he couldn’t find a way to deactivate the shield around the city in time, everyone inside the city would be dead by the end of the day. He saw it happen. He’s going to help everyone escape.
Finally inside the spire, he climbed out of the sludge he was wading through into a maintenance area. His first order of business was finding a change of clothes. He was glowing and leaving a bright blue trail of liquid on the floor wherever he went. Fortunately, there was a maintenance worker directly in front of him. He tried many times to take him out stealthily, but he learned a more efficient approach. He pointed his Laser Grapnel at the man and fired.
With a yelp, the maintenance worker flew toward the time traveler. In one smooth motion, the time traveler disengaged his laser and brought it down on the worker’s head as hard as he could. The maintenance worker was vanquished. The time traveler relieved the unconscious man of his clothing and put it on. He was no longer a giant walking neon sign.
He started making his way through the spire’s maintenance areas, grappling up shafts and artfully weaving around piles of muck and filth that were hidden from most citizens of his sparkling clean city. His path wasn’t the most efficient one, but it meant that he wouldn’t encounter many people. He had actually come close to the main shield controls several times already—he just kept hitting snag after snag with the spire’s multi-layered security.
He kicked a metal grate and crawled into a brightly lit white corridor. The walls were so polished that he could see his reflection in them as if they were a mirror. In front of him at the end of the corridor, there was a sliding door with a holographic keypad waiting on it. This was the first layer of security he needed to deal with. Fortunately, he had seen this door so many times that he could type the code in with his eyes closed. The door slid open soundlessly and he walked down an identical corridor toward the next lock.
He had come completely prepared—he knew a trick to get past every single defense and lock, and he exploited each one. He had gained years of experience from repeating that day so many times that he couldn’t even remember the first time he lived through that day. He only knew that he saw the end of the world and so much death that he needed to do something to stop it from happening. He glanced at his arm again before he undid the final lock. He wasn’t exactly sure how, but somehow his five pointed star tattoo gave him the ability and experience he needed to save everyone living in his city. They didn’t deserve to die.
He stepped into the glass elevator waiting in front of him, and its doors slid shut. With a quiet whirr, the elevator leapt to life and began to ascend. His heart started to pound. He had never actually made it into this elevator. He was closer to his goal than he had ever been. He looked at his five pointed star in an attempt to calm himself down, but it didn’t work. He looked around instead. Outside of the round glass elevator he was in, he seemed to be inside of a large, glossy, tube-shaped shaft. It was lit by a rings of light positioned a few feet apart. The elevator itself didn’t seem to be attached to anything—it just ascended on its own, pushed up by the magic of modern technology.
A large amount of light suddenly flooded into the elevator as it reached the top floor of the spire. He as slowly ascending into a small circular room lined with windows in all directions. He could see the rest of the city through them. The rows of white buildings looked peaceful under the vigilant dome that imprisoned everyone inside. A single computer console sat directly in front of the elevator’s doors, waiting for him to input the command to shut everything off. This time, everyone would finally be able to escape.
The elevator doors slid open, and the time traveler stepped forward to exit—or he tried to. Instead, the Hard Hologram serving as the elevator’s floor suddenly deactivated, and he found himself falling back down the elevator shaft. For a few moments, he stared at the concentric rings flying past him grow in number as the bright spot at the top of his elevator shaft shrunk. When he finally regained his senses, pulled out his Laser Grapnel, and fired it at the elevator, it was too late. The Hard Hologram had reactivated, and he was stuck underneath the elevator, with no way to reenter the control room.
He let go of his Grapnel and resumed falling down the shaft. So he failed again. He was so sure that he would be able to save his city this time around—but he couldn’t. He looked at the five pointed star on his arm, whispered a curse and jabbed it with his other hand. A searing heat coursed through him. It was followed by a strange tingling sensation that blotted out his vision.
The time traveler walked into the elevator and watched cautiously as its doors slid shut. The elevator started ascending slowly at first, but it gradually accelerated as its whirring increased in volume. The light rings flew past the elevator, causing it to pulsate with a fluid rhythm. It seemed oddly calming after the ordeal the time traveler had to go through to get to this point. When the penthouse control room’s light flooded the elevator, it seemed as if it was entering a higher plane of existence. The door slid open soundlessly, and anyone would have been surprised by the elevator’s floor suddenly ceasing to exist.
But this time, the time traveler was prepared. She looked at the three pointed star imprinted on her arm and smiled. She remembered what happened two recursions ago, and had fired her Laser Grapnel at the elevator’s ceiling moments before the floor dropped out below her. It was a simple final security measure, but one she couldn’t have predicted.
She swung forward out of the elevator and walked toward the controls. It was time for her to save the city, and it was clear that she was running out of time. The black spots were starting to gather along the surface of the dome. The shadows they cast on the buildings underneath were growing darker. She needed to hurry. She could remember the darkness that enveloped her many iterations ago.
She turned her attention toward the shield controls. Its holographic interface couldn’t be simpler. There was a large button that read, “SHEILD OFF.” She shrugged and held her hand up to it.
The windows suddenly tinted red all around her, casting an ominous red glow on everything in the room. Turrets suddenly rose from the ground all around her, and she was painted with red targeting lasers. Several messages appeared on the screen around the button. One read, “SHIELD DEACTIVATION SEQUENCE INITIATED. AWAITING CONFIRMATION.” Another told her the confirmation button was in a second room at the bottom of the elevator shaft. She couldn’t move her hand until the other button was pressed, or she would be shot multiple times, and an alarm would go off. So there really was one final defense that she hadn’t accounted for. Seeing no other options, she cursed under her breath and poked the three pointed star on her arm.
Her tattoo seemed to blaze with a searing heat that ran up the length of her arm before it spread through the rest of her body. It was followed by a tingling sensation that started to blot out her vision and a series of gunshots that left her corpse bleeding profusely on the floor. Lights flashed all over the spire, accompanied by an alarm siren that could be heard across the entire city.
Julie rested her her head on her hand in frustration. “They failed again,” she announced dejectedly. “We’re running out of specimens.” She started hammering furiously at her keyboard to set up some parameters.
Jason crossed his arms. “You would think their decreasing star points would give them a sense of urgency. How many more do we have?”
Julie switched to a different window and typed a few keystrokes. “Oh, we’re in the double digits now,” she responded and bit her lip, returning to her original task. The number was rapidly shrinking. All of their ‘volunteers’ were just pointlessly failing over and over again. They wouldn’t be in this predicament if they had grabbed that upgrade to their memory altering machine before they left so that it wouldn’t melt their victims’ brains when they tried to overwrite their memories a second time. “When will the upgrade arrive?”
“It’s not coming.”
She finished up, took a deep breath, and asked, “What? Why not? I made an order for it!”
“Well, it is coming, but since the universe returns to the beginning of today every time we activate the machine, it’ll never arrive.”
Julie dropped her forehead to her desk in disappointment. “We’re going to fail at getting this deposit and there’s nothing we can do about it.” That blue glowing compound was worth several times its weight in gold—practically solidified energy that could power entire civilizations for centuries. Their superiors were going to be extremely disappointed in them.
Jason asked rhetorically, “Who would create a self-sustaining facility where its citizens maintain a barrier that keeps them trapped within it, anyway?”
With her head still against her desk, she reached toward a large button. It was time to melt the last specimen’s brain and unleash their next specimen. Perhaps this time they would be successful—but even if she wasn’t, she would ever remember thinking this. After all, she couldn’t bring her memories back in time or she would risk melting her own brain. “Ugh, it doesn’t matter!” She mashed on the button.