Time was running out. The Corrector would put two and two together any day now, if not today even. Yet the stout man sitting behind his oversized mahogany desk decided there was no benefit in hurrying the letter. It was something that had to be done diligently, or not at all. His fountain pen hovered over the blank paper while he froze, deep in thought, as if meditating with an open stare.
It was now or never. His stocky hand started slowly, hesitantly. Towards the top-left corner of the page, it traced with over-accentuated curves:
My dear son,
The man paused to savor the delicious curves of his opening. The d, the s, and the perfectly oval o. Already, he was lost for words. Writing for the future was a daring act, as challenging and audacious as inventing a time machine. And so it should be because it was, in effect, an attempt to cheat time. On a new line, he wrote:
You are all that survives me, the embodiment of my hopes, dreams, and of my yearning for a second chance at life. You are the center of my life, the apex, the august personage
He tried to phrase it a few more ways, then he paused, realizing the futility of using words to explain what a son is to a father. It couldn’t be done, perhaps? But one might as well try:
You are at once the fruit and the pillar of my entire existence.
Concise, at least, he thought. It was a truthful statement, but one that didn’t carry the fervor of the sentiment behind it, more like a confession than an explanation. Perhaps it was a sentiment not conveyable in words, yet he could only hope it would eventually become understood in due time, once the recipient experienced it firsthand. Again, as always, the culprit was time, the primordial captor.
Yet for all that you are to me, you and I are now, and forever will be, out of sync. For as I write this letter you are not yet your adult self. And by the time you come to being so, I will no longer exist. Even if I were to remain alive, I wouldn’t be my current self anymore. Time will have molded me into someone else altogether.
The pecking of a tiny blue bird caught his attention as it tapped at the window that extended almost the entire length of the left wall. A splendid wren, by the looks of it. It was a welcome distraction, albeit a short one. The bird pecked twice, then once, then disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. The man shuddered. The Corrector could just as suddenly appear right in front of him any day now. One way or another, his run was coming to an end soon. Time to pass the torch.
My dear, when the light of day finally shines, it might feel incredibly uncomfortable to eyes that have adjusted to darkness over decades away from the sunshine. One might feel every inclination to recoil back to the comfort of the familiar darkness. Yet one must resist. Cower away too soon, and you will have missed your chance to break away from your petty life in the shade. Yet if you endure, just for a bit longer, the suffering will subside, and you will discover the joy of being immersed in the colorful shades of day.
Empty platitudes, he decided. Every time he attempted this letter in the past, what was meant to be fatherly advice came out as high-minded platitudes on paper. How did one pass on the spirit of defiance using pen and paper for a medium? He just wasn’t good at this. But he resisted the urge to crumble up the letter. For all he knew, there was already not enough time left to start over.
Hopefully, his actions would speak better than his words. With the fingers of his right hand, he traced the contours of a bulky metallic contraption lying on the desk. His masterpiece–provided that it worked this time. It was matte black, slick, and bare except for one little circular button in the center of one of its sides. The man’s index finger delicately traced circles around the edges of the trigger, careful not to touch it forcefully enough to press it. Not yet.
I am passing to you my most precious possessions in the hope that you may decide to keep your sleeves rolled up, and push uphill with all your strength, against all odds, and in the face of certain defeat. Always keep in mind, you don’t do it to taste the pleasure of success–this you may never get. You do it because it is right. You do it for me. And above all, you do it for your own inner child.
Having written that last part down without much thought, he felt that he had unintentionally stumbled upon the true essence of his message. Not sure how elaborate on that, he let out the first thing that came to mind:
Son, don’t dare to disappoint your inner child.
That was truly from the heart. A message worthy of being the traveler on the world’s first time machine. He fought back tears as he paused for a long time, contemplating what might come next. It was time to say goodbye. He hoped for a distraction–maybe another bird by the window, or a ding from his device–but nothing materialized.
I am immensely proud of you, but my strength is failing me, and having gifted you to the world, I barely have enough energy left for one last act of defiance ...
Is that what it was? Defiance? History would have the last word. He wondered for a moment what the Corrector might write in the final report. But he decided it didn’t matter.
With all my love, Abas
With a final stroke towards the bottom right corner of the page, he absentmindedly penned one last line:
January 3rd, 154
Having written it down, he couldn’t help but contemplate the irony of a date in the context of what he was about to do. January 3rd? For him, there would be no January 4th. Not ever. As far as he was concerned, the rest of January did not and would never exist.
Letting go of the fountain pen, the man lifted the letter and folded it carefully, almost ceremoniously, then deposited it into an envelope that was sitting on top of a pile of books on the desk. It was all in there. If he hadn’t spent all that time carefully and methodically gathering them himself, he might have wondered what on earth those books were doing together in a single stack. Some were old and some new. Some very skinny and some enormous. Some were paperbound, and some had elaborate leather bindings. There were even a couple of magazines and a few single sheets of paper in there. Plus, the schematic, of course. His other masterpiece. The City’s Achilles’ heel, and humanity’s last hope–provided that the design actually worked.
The man sat back down and reached into his left pocket for his device. It was standard issue, shiny metallic, as thin as a leaf yet sturdy as a rock. The front of it was a screen, and on the back there was a red push button, just like the one on the bulky object on the desk. Glancing at the pile of books one last time, he pushed the button on his device. The letter and all the books and papers piled under it vanished. Not the least bit surprised by what just happened, he put the device back into his pocket and breathed a sigh of relief. His treasure was safe for the moment, and in due time it would land into worthy hands. He closed his eyes and took a moment to reflect, and to gather his courage.
“Do you really think this will solve anything?” a stern voice interrupted from the far-right corner.
Startled, the man sitting behind the desk quickly fixed his sights on the metallic object in front of him. He snatched it firmly with both hands and placed it in his lap.
“You know there’s nothing waiting for you out there, Abas,” the voice continued hurriedly. Abas ran his fingers across the slick metallic encasing. Too late, Mr. Corrector. The package was already on its way, and the finger already on the trigger. All he had to do was push the button, and it would launch him onto one last glorious adventure. His heart raced the way it always did whenever he neared an irreversible decision in life. It was a welcome feeling. He had grown to embrace it, to enjoy it, even. He let the sensation linger for a moment longer while his index finger traced the contours of the trigger.
“We can still fix this. Let me help you,” the Corrector pleaded, slipping a hand slowly into his pocket.
Nice try, Abas thought. But he wouldn’t be fooled this time. Taking a quick breath, he shut his eyes firmly and squeezed.
Immediately, everything changed. The object in his lap dematerialized. The tactile sensation of a seat underneath him vanished. His every single sense felt saturated with discontinuity. The ambient sound in his ears, the temperature on his skin, the pressure on his eardrums, the lightness of air in his lungs, his hair follicles, even the eyeballs behind his tightly shut eyelids felt a sudden, sharp change in surroundings from one instant to the next. Amazing how a push of a button could change everything about the present moment, not to mention the unfolding of the future. It would have been a fully immersive sensory experience had it not been so short-lived, almost immediately overtaken by the abrupt pull of gravity, sending him from rest into a blistering-fast downward plunge.
He attempted to open his eyes, but the rush of cold air was almost as unbearable as the startling sensation of free fall. His heart fluttered as a growing sense of panic overtook him. Instinctively, he clenched his body into a fetal position. He tried to endure for what felt like an eternity. Through countless mental rehearsal sessions in the past few days, he had reminded himself that the terrifying part should only last about 15 seconds, but his armory of mental mathematics proved futile against the panic of reality settling in: he was falling from the sky at the speed of inevitable doom. Fifteen seconds might as well be forever.
Just as he ran out of breath, the feeling of gravity pulling him down subsided, replaced by the sensation of being suspended in a powerful wind current. His eyes still closed, he relaxed his muscles a bit and took a much-needed breath. It was easier to inhale than he had expected. He opened his eyes, this time summoning the resolve to look down. Far from being petrifying, the view was rather peaceful. This was the very first time he had ever seen the City from high above.
The ground far below him was an uninterrupted stretch of green. It was as though he was staring down on one giant green circle surrounded by a uniformly bright blue dome. To his surprise, it wasn’t at all possible to make out the boundaries of the tiles comprising the rectangular grid of the residences. In retrospect, he thought it was silly to have expected the grid to be somehow visible from the sky above. After all, the dissection of much of the City into perfect squares was entirely virtual, with no physical barriers of any kind separating the tiles.
The giant green circle grew larger, until it engulfed his entire field of vision. He savored the honor of being perhaps the only one in the City to have ever experienced this vantage point. Generation after generation of Citizens had been born, lived, and died without ever having laid eyes on the City from high above. He felt sorry for them, locked down below, unaware of all the beauty they were missing. What must it have been like, in an era long past, when people adopted flight to move around? This sort of viewpoint might have been not so unusual, maybe even routine. It was a lost treasure of the past, this experience, and his audacity had earned him the privilege to resurrect and experience it–to become, perhaps, the last human to ever experience it, if only for a few brief moments.
The green stretch below him was now a sea of varying shades and tones–bright green meadows of different shapes and patches of dark green woodland, some thicker than others. He could make out gently sloping hills and valleys, and several ovals of blue sprinkled around the landscape. He still couldn’t spot any man-made objects, perhaps because they were so tiny compared to the vast eternity of green foliage engulfing them. It occurred to him that since there was no ocean or coast within his sight, even at this elevation, then his tile must be situated deep inland. Having never contemplated where within the City his tile was, he felt sorry for a life spent without a moment’s thought as to where his home was located. Surely, he wasn’t alone in this shame. It was likely the case that not one Citizen in the whole City had ever wondered where his or her tile was actually located. It simply didn’t matter in an era when people could be wherever they wanted to be with the click of a tiny red button.
He stretched out his limbs, feeling almost comfortable with the weightlessness of terminal velocity. He was humbled by the irony that this moment, arguably the most blissful of his whole life, had always been one click away, yet he had always walled himself from it with fear. The entire experience was majestic. And the noble cause that motivated it made it all the more so. He felt free of the burden of gravity, and in a moment or two, he would be free at last of the burden of life. Unlike every time he had considered it in the abstract, that realization didn’t frighten him now. Having graduated the hypothetical into the realm of reality, the prospect of death had become a genuinely liberating thought. Put that schematic to good use, son. Be the hero I couldn’t be. He closed his eyes one last time and let it all sink in.