By: Arnold Bustillo
The Captain had been gone for less than a few years according to the watch on his wrist, but when he returned to Earth he landed on a completely different world. It was not the amount of time that stole everything about the world that he remembered, but the amount of distance he moved away from it.
Part of a revolutionary experiment in forward time travel, the Captain was the first – and last – human being to ever attempt traveling 1,000 years into the future. At least, that was the plan. The plan was to take advantage of the principle of time dilation, a concept which causes time on Earth to speed up the farther away from Earth a human travels. By building a boomerang craft that could spend several years speeding away from Earth before returning to it, scientists estimated the Captain would return to an Earth 1,000 years in the future, where he could serve as a living, breathing time capsule. A link to a distant past unlike any that had ever existed before.
The day of his launch was a day of global celebration, but the day of his scheduled return, 1,000 years into the future, was a day of disappointment. Even though the future generation of scientists were prepared for the Captain’s arrival back on Earth, and even though the entire world watched the skies in anticipation, there was no sign of the Captain’s spaceship ever returning to its home planet.
Global consensus was the boomerang system in the Captain’s ship must have failed, and that his craft simply floated off into the dark void of space. In reality, the boomerang system worked just fine. What failed was the estimation of how much time would pass on Earth while the Captain was gone. When he finally did return, the Captain landed on Earth not 1,000 years into the future, but 10,000 years into the future. Somebody, it would appear, had forgotten to carry an essential zero.
When the Captain failed to return as scheduled, the world waited for an additional 100 years before declaring the experiment a failure. By this time, the world decided the possibility of forward time travel was better left unexplored, too dangerous to risk any more of the best and brightest minds the world had to offer. Monuments were erected in the Captain’s image, and he was declared a hero for his efforts. After three millennia, the monuments eroded to dust, and people spoke less and less of the Captain and his brave attempt to leap into the future. After eight millennia had passed on Earth, any mention of the Captain was as a myth, with nobody sure if he ever even really existed at all. On the day he finally did return, a full nine millennia late to his own welcome home party, the world had no idea what to make of the man who emerged from a metal ship that fell from outer space and landed in the desert.
When he opened the door to his craft and stepped back onto the world which he had left all those years ago, still believing in his own mind that only 1,000 years had passed, the Captain was shocked by what he saw. Rather than the advanced humans and masters of technology that he was expecting, he saw poor idiots living in squalor. Instead of the clean, self sufficient cities that he had been promised, he saw rivers of sludge and slums carved out of dirt.
“What have you all done to yourselves?” The Captain thought. “What have you done to my home?”
“Please, save us!” The people on Earth clamored. “Man from the stars; take us away in your ship to a better place. If you are the man foretold in the myths and legends, then you have surely come to save us!”
But the Captain was no man of myth or legend. He was a man from the past, who had intended on returning to a better world, but was sorely disappointed by the state of affairs to which he had returned.
As the story of the Captain evolved in all the years he was gone, as the Captain transformed from a man of the world into a character from a fable, the people of the Earth put more and more of their faith into the stories of his mythical return. Entire groups convinced themselves they needed not take care of the world, because the Captain would return in his spaceship, and he would have the technology to move the people off the dying planet, and to deliver them to a better world which he had been building in outer space. But the stories they told themselves were nowhere near the truth of what the Captain was capable of providing.
“You put your faith in me?” The Captain told the suffering people he encountered. “Why would you put your faith in a man from the past? All this time, I was putting my faith in you.”