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We're The Chrononeers!

"sometimes it seems like life is just a far too intricately conceived web of indignities and mutually reinforcing torments for some kind of intelligent designer not to be involved." 
-Doctor Johannes Vortenburger

Man had finally freed itself from the clutches of the once immutable force of time, sort of. The development of time travel was much like space exploration had been conducted by baby steps.

Still being selected as a time traveler, or a chrononeers as they liked to be called was indeed an exceptional honor and David’s parents never tired of talking about their son the time traveler. He had always gotten such good grades!

David had undergone the rigors of time travel training and was finally ready for his first expedition into the future. Precisely one year one day and 7 hours into the future. Destroying the very fabric of existence was a risk inherent in time travel. Some questioned taking such a reckless gamble for the sake of intellectual curiosity, but the machine had already been built and at great expense. One Swedish physicist mathematically proved the obliteration of one chrononeer named Jeremy who no one remembered because his existence had been accidentally erased. As a consequence, David’s training was primarily remembering everything he should be careful not to do while time traveling. These guidelines were being repeated to him by the expedition's leader Doctor Derek Johansen Ling as they gathered up their equipment.

“We bring just one phone with us, and that’s only to be used to see if advance infrastructure still exists and some web browsing. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES are you to try and contact yourself or any of your loved ones!” Derek said emphatically.

They slipped into radiation suits just in case nuclear war had broken out since yesterday. David’s was too big, and the only thing that could be seen through his visor was his hair, but Doctor Ling assured him it was unlikely they’d be teleported to a radioactive hellscape.

They grabbed the gear, and the team was assembled. Traveling with the two physicists was Major Heather Winters. She was a young military engineer who the mission tasked with handling mission security as well as all the various sensors and surveillance equipment. Virtually all the practical tasks the two theoretical physicists had no aptitude for. Like Doctor Ling, she was an experienced time traveler.

She carried a number of cameras, microphones, collapsible tripods, a couple Geiger counters, and a stack of books.

“Would you like anything to read?” she asked David.

The young scientist was taken back by the question. “No I think I’ll probably stay engaged through this whole journey through time thing,” he answered sarcastically.

“Ok well let me know if you change your mind,” the Heather shrugged.

Time travel was like taking a short unplanned mid-afternoon nap. David blinked, and the lab became a small empty room with a single window on the north wall.

“Welcome to the future!” Doctor Ling said with feigned drama.

“Holy crap Doctor Ling look the tree is gone!” Heather cried.

Doctor Ling was also ecstatic “My god we’ll finally be able to get some real research done!”

“Tree?” David asked.

“Yeah this big fern was blocking our view for the last year or so,” Ling explained while Heather got to work setting up the equipment.

“For the last year?” David repeated. “ But hasn’t time travel only been possible since last year?”

“Yeah and for most of that time we’ve been watching that tree,” Doctor Ling said sounding slightly annoyed by the line of questioning.

“We’re clear for radiation,” Heather announced we can take off the suits.

The team stripped off the cumbersome gear and sat down to watch out the window. Apparently, the tree had been obstructing the view of an abandoned gas station and a very sparsely used road.

David checked the cellphone to make sure they had indeed even gone into the future, and according to the calendar it was, in fact, 4/31/2031 one year and one day into the future. An hour went by, and David was considering taking up the Major on that book. When something suddenly jolted Doctor Ling.

“I think I see an aircraft!” He announced.

Heather got behind the camera and tilted the lens towards the sky.

“What kind of aircraft is it?” Ling asked brimming with the anticipation of discovery.

“Hmmm says United on it,” Heater mumbled.

“Is this really it?” David said seething with frustration. “Can’t we at least try going out the front door?”

“Don’t even suggest something that dangerous!” Ling snapped. “One wrong step and we could destroy all existence!”

“Yeah,” concurred Heather. “Have you ever not existed before? It’s horrible.”

“You were blinked out of existence?” David asked.

“Yes,” Ling interjected. “By my calculations, we ceased to exist for approximately 45 minutes on March 3rd.”

“I don’t really remember it,” Heather said. “But I wouldn’t do whatever I did to risk it again.”

There was a buzzing sound that alarmed Ling. “What was that?”

“Holy shit someone’s calling the phone,” Heather said gravely.

“I knew you’d be trouble!” Ling shouted at David.

David was defensive. “What the hell did I do?” he retorted.

“The only way anyone could be calling this phone is if someone in his time had the number and that could only happen if someone in the mission gave it to them!” Ling fired back.

David shook his head “but when could I have done that?”

“I don’t know! Sometimes in the future, I'd imagine,” Ling hissed.

The ringing stopped, and silence enveloped the room. They stared at the phone, and after a moment it vibrated a final time with an accompanying single high pitched ding.

“There’s a voice mail,” Heather said ominously.

“I say we listen to it,” said David.

“We can’t do that until we assessed all the risks first,” Ling warned.

“Alright let's do that then,” David challenged.

The two physicists locked eyes and immediately started scribbling equations. After some time they presented their cases to the Major. After another 40 minutes or so of a debate that was utterly incomprehensible to Heather, she decided to vote to listen to the voice mail.

“It’s not like we’re interacting with anyone,” she said. “We’re just listening to a recording.”

Ling threw up his hands “How many degrees of separation is required not to destroy the universe?” he wondered aloud.

David unlocked the phone screen and downloaded the message. His thumb hovered over the play button, and he looked to his comrades. Heather and Ling shook his head. David pressed play and braced himself. It is still up for debate whether or not existence was destroyed but then brought back by the negating force of a causality loop or if anything even happened at all.

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