It’s going to be a quick mission, no matter what it feels like. In and out. To and fro, and then everything’s okay again. I’ve never done it before, but it’s no matter. My ship isn’t the first-rate kind, either, not like the ones they used in the first tests, but she’ll hold up. All that is wrong will be right again.
I’ve been in the ship for the past who-knows-how-long, but who cares how long? I can see the Cylinder through the window now, spinning like an empty cardboard toilet paper tube on its roll. 100 kilometers long and ten wide. Of course I would know, I’m the one who built it. I’m the one who had the guts to try at a time-like curve and I’m the one who succeeded, so why was I the one kicked out of the lab before experiments even began? She’s crazy, they said, she’s gone mad. But it wasn’t that I was crazy, it was that I was right, and that made me dangerous, and they knew it.
They can probably see me now, through the security cameras I paid for. They can see me starting around the Cylinder. They can see it being too late to stop me, and then what? They see me disappear into some pocket sewed between science and fiction.
It’s funny, and sad, really, that I was the one who cracked time travel and I haven’t gotten to use it myself until now. I feel the ship completing the last orbit and slipping into the past. It’s a past that will soon be gone, corrected. Cleaned up, like an unsightly stain.
I point the ship towards Earth and begin my descent. The sky goes from the unimaginable darkness of deep space to a regular black, then indigo, then blue, like a dawn without a sunrise. I land in an empty field, where the poor fragile past won’t be able to find me, and I’m welcomed to my new home. Welcome to forty years ago, say the naïve clouds. I almost feel pity for them. Soon everything will have changed. Soon we’ll be in a whole new timeline, where perhaps those clouds will never have existed. Don’t worry. I tell them. Everything will be better once I’m finished here.
I did my research back in my own time. Dr. Levi Reis’s parents met on at a restaurant not two miles from my landing site after internet dating for a year. Fast forward forty years in the future, and Dr. Reis is telling me I’m crazy, kicking me out of my own lab, continuing my experiments in a safer way, a cowardly way, and taking credit for my methods of time travel. It will be those very methods he stole that don’t kill him, but erase him from being, because I can do what Dr. Reis never had the courage to try. I can change the past.
I walk into the restaurant wearing a dress that I hate and high-heeled shoes that I hate more. They’re both from my time, so I’m sure I look very fashion forward. A dark haired man is walking around looking like a sad, lonely loser and asking people if they are called Sarah Ito.
“Sarah Ito. That’s me.” I say. “You must be Levi Reis.” Levi Reis, senior. Dr. Reis’s father.
The real Sarah Ito will not arrive for another forty-five minutes due to car troubles, and by then, it will be far too late.
“Nice to meet you, Sarah.” Dr. Levi’s father looks down at the picture in his hands. “Wait—are you sure you’re Sarah Ito? You don’t look like the picture from online.”
I certainly don’t. I wouldn’t look like the overdone skimpily dressed lady in the photo for all the money in the world. But I give a light airy laugh, the breezy kind that never comes to me naturally. “It’s online dating. What do you expect?”
This Levi Reis is a very stupid man. I have just given him undeniable proof that I am a liar and he should leave any woman found to be so pathetic immediately. But instead he grins. “Don’t I know it,” he says through a mouthful of mathematically, yet eerily, perfect teeth.
“I don’t like this restaurant.” I say. “Let’s go somewhere else. I know a great little place nearby that’s much better than this shabby lot.” He looks annoyed, as he should be, and I almost want to let him make the right decision and dump this sorry character. But instead I bat my eyes and purse my lips in a sickening way and he grins again.
“Sure thing.” He smiles. We can’t chance the real Sarah coming in to search for her Levi Reis and finding us. She’ll have to be stood up.
My original plan was to simply break up the meeting and let that be that. But as our first date ends, I realize this is going to take some more devotion. If I leave now, Levi and Sarah could still meet later on and Levi could still be born. But it’s no sacrifice to pay months, even years of my life, as long as I can ensure that the man who ruins my life’s work is dead before he is even dreamed of. So when three months, six months, a year of these stupid dates goes by, when Levi Reis gets down on one knee and asks me to make him the happiest man in the whole wide world, I say yes. It’s the only way.
“He’s beautiful.” Levi says. I wish he hadn’t insisted on being in here with me the whole time, seeing me naked and screaming in the most undignified way. I haven’t grown to care for him, not even after two years in his timeline, but I still didn’t want him to know I was capable of making such unbelievably girlish noises. Until I made them, I didn’t know I was capable of them myself.
I hold our newborn son in my arms. Though I’ll never love Levi, though I’ve never loved anyone before, I love this baby. I’m scientifically coded to, to love the round eyes and the soft skin and the body that’s just so small and so cute. But it’s not just that. This child is proof of my years of work. This is my changing the past. This is my triumph. Instead of my nemesis being born, it is my flesh and blood that breathes for the first time on this day. I have won, and nothing else matters.
“He’ll be the seventh Levi in my family.” My husband, Levi VI, boasts. That much is a minor drawback, that Levi Reis will be my beautiful son’s name just as it is the name of his father before him. But even that is a victory, because the sounds that once were trapped to the body of my nemesis now float freely around the body of my child. The motions that once tasted bitter on my tongue are now sweet on my lips. I have reclaimed Levi Reis as the name of someone altogether more perfect than Dr. Reis ever could have been, had he have been born.
Levi grows quickly, quicker than I want him too. Suddenly he can sit by himself, then crawl, then stand, and before I know it he’s walking. I can only imagine what kind of a future this boy will walk to. One better than Dr. Reis’s, surely. He will not break my heart. He will not crush my dreams. If I meet my grown-up son in this new reality that I and I alone have created, we will do great things together.
My son turns one year old, and then two. Four years since I climbed into my spaceship and orbited the Cylinder, four years since I decided that if I couldn’t make history, I would re-write it, four years since I disappeared a person and the rest of his timeline. But I realize something. I have to get back. I’ve kept my spaceship safe, kept it hidden, ready to use if I ever decided that I needed to. And now, however much I love my son, I think it is the time. I came here to make myself a future, after all, and now that I have done it, it is my right to leave and enjoy it.
So, in the middle of the night, I leave my husband in bed and visit Levi’s room. He’s gotten so big; he won’t be sleeping in that crib for much longer. He’ll need a new bed, and it will not be me who buys it. I kiss my son on the forehead, soft enough not to wake him up but enough that he will sense the warmth in his sleep. Around his neck, I slip the chain of a silver pocket watch. The clock will be a token for him as he grows, a reminder of his mother and an undetectable hint at where she came from. I’ll see my son again, I know, in the new reality that is also of my making. Perhaps we’ll meet there soon.
The trip back to my present, my new present, feels shorter than it did the first time around. I’ve seen it all before, the Cylinder rotating sadly in the air, sad but hopeful at the new world that is thriving beneath it. Thank you. I whisper to it as I orbit. Thank you for helping me kill Dr. Levi Reis.
My spaceship lands on the dock built just outside my old lab. But not my old lab, I remind myself. Not in this world left unplagued by Dr. Reis. I will exit my ship and I will walk into my office, overlooking the daring experiments the world knows are mine!
But when I walk onto the cement, my heart drops to the pit of my stomach, the place where hearts only venture to go when the impossible occurs.
“I’m disappointed in you, Dr. Tanaka.” The man, the terribly ugly and evil man, says. “You were banned from using the Cylinder long ago.”
I look around and I realize nothing has changed. Somehow these years were wasted, somehow I have failed. I’m standing on ground that is not mine in the same future I left, facing a man whose existence I should have avoided. Dr. Reis looks very unhappy to see me.
And then I remember something from long ago. Something from one of those terrible conversations the scientists used to have at lunch and coffee breaks, where they’d bear their hearts and pasts to each other, opening up their secrets like wounds and oozing out stories like blood. “My mother left when I was just two years old.” Dr. Reis had said. “It was so hard for my father and me.” And then he had checked the time. He had checked the time on a silver pocket watch.
“You know you weren’t judged mentally strong enough to work here.” My own flesh and blood tells me.
“I’m sorry.” I whisper to my unchanged nemesis. “I’m sorry, my son.”