I stared up at the hole in my ceiling, trying in vain to blink back tears as I watched the caped man vanish into a dot.
In a sudden burst of anger, overcome with impotent rage, I stamped my foot. I stamped both feet, jumping up and down and waving my arms and screaming, not caring about the ruined bits of electronics that were further crushed underfoot. Tears were rolling down both of my cheeks, now, but I didn’t bother to try and wipe them away – I knew that they’d soon be replaced by their fellows.
How the hell could the damn man believe that he was doing the right thing? Even as he flew away, he called back over one shoulder, with that pompous smirk, that “the authorities were on their way.”
Yeah. Like they’d do anything but help me up, apologize, and pat me on the back with sympathy.
Finally settling down a little, I took a deep, rattling breath, feeling my rib cage creaking. I had to remind myself that I was getting older, that I didn’t have the same strength as I’d once possessed. I was a crippled shell of a man, trying to undo the mistakes of the past – and blocked, prevented.
I bent down, gathering up the few remaining components that had escaped PowerBolt’s assault. “More like PowerBrat,” I snarled to myself, the words more sorrowful than angry.
Not much had escaped his blasts, of course. Most of the integral components, including the main drive chip that had taken me hundreds of painstaking hours to assemble, were smashed to splinters. I could perhaps recycle some of the incredibly rare raw materials, but I’d have to rebuild all the complex assemblies.
Even though I knew that it was no use, I couldn’t help raging against the man in my head, endlessly replaying what-if scenarios. I had been so close! The machine had been powering up, getting ready to take me back to the chosen moment, when PowerBolt came smashing in. Just a few more minutes, and I would have been gone, finally beyond his reach!
“Saving the world from meddling interference,” he announced to me, as his blasters turned my hard work to rubble. As if he had any right to judge humanity, to single-handedly condemn it to live with its horrifying mistakes of the past!
I tried to think of what I could have said to him, to convince him that my “fiendish quest” was for the best, but I knew that there was nothing. I’d even tried, once, back when I thought that I had more time.
I had captured him, bound him with energy fields to contain his power beams, and tried to explain my reason why the past had to be changed. I showed him the photographs of those people, suffering on the edge of death. I read him accounts of the Allied soldiers when they finally discovered the atrocities that their enemy had been committing. I even showed him my wrist, let him see the tattooed numbers that were still faintly readable.
And then, when I set him free, he knocked me out, dragged me out of my research laboratory – and set the building ablaze.
There was nothing I could do, no way for me to change the man’s mind. This had been my last chance, and it had failed.
My eyes turned towards the device in the corner, covered with a white sheet. I could feel my hands trembling, but I forced them to be still. It was the only way.
I pulled the sheet down, revealing the sleek, dangerous lines of the machine hidden beneath. I’d never built anything like this before. Years ago, I had sworn that I never would. A weapon? It was wrong, it was what my captors had demanded from me. I swore upon my soul that I would never create another device intended for harm.
But now, I could see no other option. And it was for a good reason, in the end, I told myself. And even I didn’t know the extent of PowerBolt’s strength – maybe the weapon would only cripple him, giving me enough time to escape to the past.
But I had to use it, now. I could feel the cancer deep inside my bones, growing stronger each day as it sapped me. I knew that I didn’t have long. This next attempt might well be my last.
And I wouldn’t let myself fail.
With trembling breath, I returned back to my bench, beginning the long and painstaking process of reassembling the time flux components. But my eyes kept on being pulled off to the corner, to the sinister weapon that stood there.
A weapon of such elegant simplicity. And the logic behind it had been so simple. A natural chain reaction, amplified from the subatomic level up to vastly heightened strength.
I estimated a roughly seventy percent chance that the entire ionosphere would ignite, and an eighty percent chance that life on Earth would be extinguished within two months.
But if I could go back, could change the past, I wouldn’t ever have to use it.
With one last, deep breath, ignoring the tightening in my chest as my heart beat shallowly, I returned to my work.