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We sat around a circular table in a small meeting room deep in the temple. Kaia was busy elsewhere in the temple. It was just Joëlle, Jonathan, K and I, plus the mysterious skyther. He hadn’t removed his helmet, and when I asked for his name, he didn’t respond. Kaia seemed to trust him, so I thought I should give him a chance. Though we were seated, he stood watching over us. All was quiet.

Are you sure we can trust him?” Jonathan said, not bothering to be secretive.

I lowered my ears. “Kaia trusts him. And my mom trusted her. And I trust my mom.”

A moment passed where we all waited, staring at the skyther.

First things first,” he said. “How did Astraloth survive? I’ll tell you.”

His gaze shifted between us as he stared through the black visor on his white helm. “Astraloth was sent forward in time.”

Jaws dropped all around the table.

K scoffed loudly. “What, you expect us to believe that?”

Why not?” I said, cautiously. “We all saw the planet disappear… yet we’re standing on it now.” I lifted my ears slowly as the gears turned in my head. “Come to think of it, when I saw the Shade Beam fire, I thought I saw the planet disappear just before the weapon hit it.”

The figure slowly lowered his head. “It’s true. The spheres floating above the Great Temple… they housed the ability to send the entire planet of Astraloth forward in time, approximately two and a half days into the future.” He paused. “That’s how Astraloth survived. It stopped existing just before the Shade Beam hit… but only for two and a half days.”

Jonathan started chuckling, quietly at first, then louder. We all turned to him. He kept laughing, looking at us with perplexion and amusement at the same time. “Time travel?” he said at last. “That’s not possible!”

Joëlle shook her head. “Actually, Jonathan, it is possible… at least, it’s theoretically possible. Well, there are plenty of theories about how to travel through time, both forward and backward-”

But it’s not possible in practice!” He exclaimed. “Theories are one thing, but time travel is nothing more than that. A theory. It’s never been documented.” He ran his fingers through his hair, spiking it up.

Joëlle put her hands on her hips, sitting up. “Just because it hasn’t been documented doesn’t mean it’s impossible.”

What would you know about it?” he asked. “You’re not a scientist!”

No,” she said. “But, I actually have read a lot about time travel. It’s a bit of a hobby of mine.” He stared at her, and she began to blush. Then she scowled. “What, you mean you’re not interested in time travel?”

He scoffed. “Actually, I am, I just-”

That’s enough!” K yelled. Her fists slammed onto the table, and everyone fell back. She hit it with such force that a chunk of it broke off and sprang back soaring over her head. It crashed into the wall, right next to the skyther, who sidestepped just enough to avoid it. He was the only one who hadn’t flinched. Even K did.

K looked at the table, and her face slowly morphed into a shy smile. “Oops. I was just trying to get your attention.”

They were silent.

Just… don’t break too many more tables, alright?” I said.

She nodded sheepishly.

So that’s it?” said Jonathan. “Astraloth travelled through time?” He looked at us each individually. “I concede, perhaps it is possible. But… why did you wait to gather us all in this room, specifically, before telling us?”

The skyther sighed. “I just wanted some privacy,” he said. “So… what is your plan now? What’s the next step in fighting Duhrnan?”

Wait,” I said. “I still have questions. How were the spheres activated. Is it manual? If so, how did the people know when to-”

I’ll answer your questions in a minute.” He cut me off sharply. “Jonathan, you had some thoughts about the next move… about how to stop the Shade Beam. Why don’t you share them?”

Our eyes fell to Jonathan, who looked at the skyther with confusion. “How did you...”

Are you psychic?” K asked. “Like Suranos?”

The skyther tensed. “Just, pretend I’m not here right now.”

I raised an ear. “That’s… kind of hard to do.”

I understand completely,” he said. “But there’s no time to lose- No time to argue. The countdown is still going. Now, Jonathan, what did you want to talk to everyone about?”

Jonathan turned to look at me, eyes narrowed. I shrugged. He cleared his throat.

Well, ‘Mr. Mysterious’ is right… I did have some thoughts I wanted to share, while we were flying over here. About how to stop the Shade Beam.”

We all leaned in. “Go on,” said Joëlle, impatiently.

His gaze fell to the table. “Back on Voren, at the facility where the Shade beam was made… Where we all met… Where K was made, in the secret Brotherhood labs beneath the base, lies a computer.” He looked up at us. “We don’t know much about the Shade Beam, but I know it’s heavily armoured. Which means, if we are planning to destroy it, we will need to find a weakness…”

Why don’t we just board it and blow it up from the inside, like we did the mothership?” K asked.

Maybe that would work. But we don’t know if it will, and we wouldn’t know how to. We don’t have the schematics. We don’t know what its weak point is.” He raised his finger up. “But, if we can access the main computer on Voren, deep in the secret labs, we should be able to download the schematics for the Shade Beam and analyze them for any weaknesses. Then it would just be a matter of actually taking the thing down.”

The thought of going back to Voren now intrigued me. “Jonathan, that’s a great idea.”

He bowed his head, and sighed. “Yes… except for a couple major flaws.”

What flaws?” asked Joëlle.

In order to get into the computer we need a Brotherhood access code.”

Wouldn’t you have that?” I asked.

Yes,” he said, “But the code for the computer is over three hundred characters long. I never memorized it… for obvious reasons.”

Yeesh,” said K. “Somebody in the Brotherhood’s compensating for something.” She glanced around, smirking. “Not funny? Alright.”

Did you have the access code saved onto your holo-gauntlet?” I asked.

Yes, I did!” he exclaimed. “But in the battle with Duhrnan, he pried it from my wrist.” He pulled back his coat to reveal the bare sleeves of his undersuit. “I… wasn’t sure I should even tell you about the computer, because I knew we didn’t have a way to access it.”

Joëlle spoke up. “It might be a long code, Jonathan, but we can hack it. A computer could try every combination of characters in no time at all.”

Right, I thought of that too,” he said, “before I remembered that the Brotherhood computer is programmed with a smart AI that is designed to self destruct the memory banks if it detects someone is trying to hack into it. Same thing if we try to manually remove the memory core. We can only access it with the code.”

Phew...” said K, slumping into her seat. “Way to get us excited.”

I leaned forward. “If we try fighting the Shade Beam without a plan, we don’t stand a real chance at stopping it before Earth is vaporized. Even with the mothership gone, there’s probably a fleet of valicorr fighters ready to defend it. And we all know Duhrnan is fully capable of following through on his threat.” I shut my eyes, concentrating. “Maybe we can enlist the TAU’s help? Maybe they could help us figure out how to crack the code, since it’s human technology-”

No!” Jonathan cried, leaping from his seat. “No, if they get involved with the research labs… No, Osax. I won’t allow it.”

But-”

If I show them the labs, they’ll destroy… everything. I can’t let that happen.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I thought you regretted all of your experiments…”

Jonathan sighed. He looked to K. “The cause may have been wrong… but the experiments themselves are not.”

K’s brow furrowed, and her mouth opened. “Wait, are you saying… Back on Voren, are there more people like me?”

Jonathan gulped. “Yes. Though I halted the experiments after you were awoken. If I’m not mistaken, all of the other clones should still be in stasis pods.”

K was shocked. “How many more?”

Three… three-hundred.”

Three-hundred?!” K shouted. My ears peeled back.

An army of bioweapons, created by the Brotherhood. The TAU would undoubtedly consider them a threat.” I glanced to K. She shook her head in disbelief. “We’re not bringing the TAU into this.”

Joëlle pointed to herself with her thumb. “…I’m part of the TAU.”

You’re different,” Jonathan said. “You know K… You understand why it would be wrong to kill the others.”

Maybe it was wrong to make them in the first place,” she said.

Hey!” K exclaimed. “Maybe it was wrong for your parents to have you, huh? I don’t think you can make judgments about who’s life is right and who’s is wrong!”

Joëlle was stunned. “Sorry, K. That’s not what I meant.”

Damn right it’s not,” she replied.

Let’s stay focused,” Joëlle said. “Was the access code saved anywhere else?”

Jonathan shrugged. “I’m sure other Brotherhood agents may have had it saved somewhere… possibly. But I can’t think of any-”

Director Aali!” I blurted. “Could he have had the code on his holo-gauntlet?”

Jonathan nodded. “Maybe. But… I know his holo-gauntlet was rigged up using the same technology as the main computer, so we’d have to find the password to his gauntlet first, or risk wiping its memory. And knowing him, I’ll bet he just had it memorized.”

I put my head in my hands. “So, it’s hopeless?”

The skyther removed the hood from his head, though the mask remained. “Now you understand what’s at stake, and you understand that you need Jonathan’s Brotherhood access code.”

Do you have a solution?” I asked, plainly.

The skyther nodded. “I do. And now, I can answer your questions about Astraloth and the spheres.”

I tilted my head, confused. “Okay… But why did you want us to jump around between subjects of conversation? It seems unconventional… and needlessly complex.”

He raised his hands in defense. “Trust me. It needed to happen this way.”

Why?”

It just did. Now, I believe you were wondering about how the spheres were activated?”

I nodded slowly. “I can believe that the spheres sent Astraloth into the future… but was the activation manual? Only a living being would have the context and judgment to determine when it was appropriate to use such a defense, and send Astraloth forward in time.”

You are correct,” said the skyther. “The spheres were activated manually, by Queen Suranos.”

So, she must have been tuned into the Code-Alpha signal just before the Shade Beam fired. Duhrnan even counted down to the shot- it would have been easy to predict.”

It would have,” he said, “if she had been able to access the signal. But when the Shade Beam arrived in the system, it was accompanied by another battlecruiser… the Silencer.”

Ryner’s ship!” Jonathan exclaimed. “It gets it’s name for a reason, you know. The Silencer houses a powerful array of directed jamming devices. Point it at a planet, and the Silencer could block all communications and scanners to or from the surface.”

I said, “The Silencer jammed communications around Astraloth, so nobody on the planet even knew of Duhrnan’s broadcast or the Shade Beam before it fired?”

Correct.” The skyther said.

Then how did my mother know when to activate the spheres?”

Because you told her exactly when Duhrnan fired the Shade Beam.”

What…?”

Everything seemed to slow as the skyther reached his hands up to his white helmet, and slowly lifted it. Then it all made sense- in a kind of way which made no sense at all. He dropped the helmet to the floor, revealing his pale face, the white hairs of his fur, and his amber eyes. A face I knew all too well.

Osax?!” K said, staring at the skyther. “But… You-”

K, Jonathan, and Joëlle each took turns staring at me, and the skyther in front of us. The skyther and I locked eyes. He looked just like me, and as I stared at him, I took in the details of his attire. His black cloak slid behind, off his shoulders; it was the same cloak Joëlle had given to me, the same one I was wearing that very moment. His armour too, was the same. I could see the same scorch marks that adorned the shoulder, the same damage in all the same places. His ears wobbled in the same way I noticed my own did when I glanced in the mirror, and he stood with one hand on his hip, gazing at me with an expression that held the same self-consciousness I was feeling that very moment as he looked at me.

Are you a clone?” Jonathan asked.

We both shook our heads.

No,” he said.

He can’t be,” I said.

But then...” Joëlle said, before grinning. “A causal loop!” She jumped up out of her seat. “I can’t believe it! This is the craziest day of my life!” She squealed with excitement. “Oh my god, I never thought I’d get to witness something like this!”

It was hard to pry my gaze away from the other me, standing just feet away on the other side of the table, shuffling awkwardly.

Wait!” said K. “Osax is right there, but you- You’re Osax too!” She pointed at the skyther. “What the hell happened?”

Osax looked at K, and lifted his ears slightly. He said, “It’s… alright K. I am Osax. Your friend. The same Osax as him.” He pointed to me.

K and I locked eyes. She looked confused. I tried to hide my own confusion. Then I turned back to Osax. “It’s weird to see you… to see myself like this.”

I know,” he said. “Completely bizarre. It’s like looking into a mirror, except-”

...except I don’t know what you’re thinking,” I said.

He exhaled. Then he scanned the room, looking at each of my friends… each of his friends. “This time travel business is actually a little more complicated than just sending the planet into the future.” His eyes narrowed, and I tried not to focus on how strange it was to see myself talking and moving without my own will. It was a true out of body experience. “The second part of the defense, part of what makes it work, is this device.”

He retrieved a small golden orb from a pouch on his leg, about the size of a baseball. At a glance, it looked like a plain sphere, but I caught sight of an indent which ringed the sphere, cutting it in half, and several buttons. He held it up in his hand so all could see. “The spheres of the Great Temple, when activated, send Astraloth into the future. But this time ball, given to me by my mother… sends its user into the past.”

Not a sound was made. Sends someone into the past? I thought. So, this other me…

That’s how you’re here. You used that to travel backwards through time.” I said.

He nodded slowly, staring at me. “I used it… and you’re going to. Soon.”

I lowered my gaze. “What…”

He continued. “If Astraloth was ever to be threatened, it would be saved before anyone even knew it needed to be. By sending someone back in time to before the moment of destruction, the leader of Astraloth would know precisely when to use the spheres and send Astraloth into the future, evading whatever threat there was, and essentially waiting until the threat passed.” He paused. “That is exactly what happened. I used this orb to travel back in time to before Duhrnan’s attack, warn Suranos of the attack, and ensure that Astraloth was safe.”

I’m confused…” said K. “Which one happened first? Did you go back in time first? Or did Astraloth go forward in time?”

I puzzled over that for a moment, before the other me responded. “Actually, Joëlle, you explained it best.”

She flashed him a strange look. “But I didn’t...” Then she chuckled to herself. “Right… to you, this conversation has already happened!”

I’m confused,” said K.

Trust me,” said Osax, “It makes sense. Joëlle?”

Right,” she said, taking her seat once more. “Forget everything you think you know about time travel, alright?”

We waited. After a moment, I nodded. “Alright.”

Okay. What we are dealing with is a very specific kind of time travel. It’s called a causal loop.”

Okay,” said K. “Time loop. Got it.”

Actually, it’s not a time loop. That’s something else.”

Jonathan eyed her carefully. “What’s a time loop, then?”

She ran her fingers through her hair. “A time loop is when a span of time is repeated, sometimes more than once. Whenever time resets, everyone involved in the time loop would theoretically re-experience events. But as I said, we’re witnessing a causal loop, not a time loop.”

So, what’s that?” K asked.

Joëlle rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “A causal loop is completely different. Time isn’t repeating itself. What a causal loop implies is that two separate events are both cause and effect for one another.”

How can two events cause each other?” I asked.

Well, think about it,” she said, leaning forward, her eyes glimmering with excitement. “Astraloth survived Duhrnan’s attack only because Osax was able to travel back in time and warn Suranos of the Shade Beam. But, Osax was only able to travel back in time because Astraloth wasn’t destroyed by the Shade Beam. Astraloth surviving caused Osax to travel back in time, which caused Astraloth to survive, which caused Osax to travel back in time… You get the idea.”

K frowned. “That sounds like a time loop to me.”

It’s not. Time itself hasn’t looped at all… but cause and effect has. It’s circular causation.”

I looked up at the other me. He eyed me knowingly.

Jonathan put his head in his hands. “Okay, Joëlle. Explain to me this: These two events, Osax travelling back in time, and Astraloth being saved… they cause each other. But what caused the loop to happen in the first place? It doesn’t make any sense… Because as you said, if Astraloth had been destroyed, then Osax wouldn’t have been able to travel back in time, because this ‘time ball’ Suranos supposedly gave him would have been destroyed too… right?”

Yes, if Astraloth had been destroyed,” she said.

But when Durhnan fired the Shade Beam, it would have been destroyed, because Osax wouldn’t have been able to travel from the future, because Astraloth would have been destroyed! So how could this possibly be what happened?”

Jonathan,” said Osax, “you’re thinking in terms of cause and effect as we commonly understand it. But this causal loop operates on a fundamentally different understanding of spacetime. You can’t use the same kind of logic to explain it-”

But that’s absurd!” he protested. “The order of events would result in Duhrnan arriving at Astraloth and destroying it with the Shade beam. If Astraloth was destroyed, we never would have wound up back here. Therefore, Osax couldn’t have gone back in time… Therefore he couldn’t have saved Astraloth. Therefore-”

Jonathan!” Joëlle shouted. “You’re logic is backwards.”

No, my logic is sound. There must be another explanation for Astraloth’s reappearance.”

How do you explain that other me being here?” I said, gesturing to Osax.

I make a good point,” he said. “Joëlle?”

Let me set the record straight,” she said. “A causal loop is self-originating. Meaning, it doesn’t follow standard cause and effect.” Joëlle hesitated for a moment. “As I said, it follows strict circular causation. Your logic, Jonathan, is flawed, because by the time Duhrnan arrived with the Shade Beam, Osax had already travelled back in time. Well… not quite.” She motioned to me. “Obviously, Osax hasn’t travelled back in time, yet, or he wouldn’t be here.” She motioned to the other me. “That Osax has experienced it already. But as far as the flow of time for the rest of us goes… What really happened first was Osax arrived from the future.

After that, Astraloth was saved… ironically by travelling to the future, though that detail is irrelevant to the causal loop itself.”

I think I understand,” I said.

The other me turned to face Jonathan. “I know it’s confusing, but it actually makes sense, in its own way.” He raised his hand up. “You’re going to say ‘If time travel were real, people would have done it a long time ago.’”

Wh-” Jonathan stuttered. “How did you know- But how could you have known I was going to say that, when I haven’t said it? By Joëlle’s thinking, even if you were basing it on having heard this exact conversation the first time around, I never said it, which means you wouldn’t have been able to know-”

But I just heard myself say it,” I said. “Self-originating… I know that you were going to say that now, not because you actually did, but because I just heard myself tell me!”

The other me tilted their ears slyly, gesturing to me in approval.

Joëlle spoke up. “See? In a causal loop, events aren’t the only things which can be self-originating. Knowledge can be too. And theoretically, so can objects. But it looks like we don’t have any self originating objects…”

Good grief,” said Jonathan, slumping in his chair. “I don’t think I could take any more complications.”

Put bluntly,” said Joëlle, “Everything within the causal loop happened, and will happen, because of itself. You can try to think your way out of it until your brain hurts, but it won’t help. Osax knew what to say there cause he heard himself say it already… he’s not psychic, he couldn’t actually read your mind. He just remembered that part of this conversation. Don’t worry too much, Jonathan. Cause and effect should return to a normal linear sequence once the causal loop ends. Which will happen once we reach the loop’s furthest boundary in chronological time, when Osax departs for the past. Which, to us, hasn’t happened yet. Even though its effects have.”

Alright, Joëlle, alright,” Jonathan resigned. He said to the other me, “I believe you, Osax.”

We all took a moment to breathe, and rest our voices. I remembered what my mother had said to me, in her last moments. I know you will save Earth, just like you saved Astraloth. Just like I saved Astraloth… I met eyes with myself. His face looked tired, straining to keep his eyes open. He struggled to appear strong, to encourage me. My gaze fell to the device at his fingertips. I believed him. And I knew I was about to time travel.

I rose from the table, pushed my chair in. “I’m going to travel back in time to warn Mom about Duhrnan’s attack. But that’s not all.” I pointed to the ball, a fire igniting within. “Can you send me back to the night when the Firebrand stopped here for repairs?”

Osax smirked, nodding. “Of course I can. This little device can send you through space, as well. You’re going to appear outside the city, just to make sure no one witnesses it happening. We don’t want to alarm anyone.”

Wait, can I use it too? I want to come along!” K said.

It can only send one person. And, it’s a one time use deal. It will disintegrate like the spheres of the Great Temple did.” He shook his head. “Sorry, K. He has to do it alone.”

I watched his fingers carefully pressing against the sphere, and a holographic display projected out from it in blue. He adjusted settings for time, and location, written in Skorali. I made sure to commit his motions to memory, trying to learn how to use the device by watching him. I couldn’t help but feel myself bubbling with excitement.

Joëlle said, “What are you going to do with the Firebrand?”

Nothing, but I need us all to be on the planet when I arrive. I’m going to get Jonathan’s code,” I stated.

Jonathan’s lip twitched into a smile. “Now there’s an idea… The code is lost now, but back then I still had my gauntlet. You’ll need to somehow get a hold of my holo-gauntlet…”

And I’ll need a holo-gauntlet of my own, to copy the code onto.”

Here, use mine!” said K, unstrapping the device from her wrist. She stood up. I reached out to her hand, grabbing the device, and she placed her other hand on mine for a second. “And make sure you don’t get hurt, or die or something. You need to come back safe, okay?”

The other me lifted his ears, laughing. “K, it’s alright. I’m right here.”

Oh… I guess you are...” she said. “Hey, if you need to unlock my holo-gauntlet, my password is ‘K’.”

We all stared at her. She shrugged.

What? It’s easy to remember!”

Jonathan chimed in as I strapped K’s holo-gauntlet to my wrist. “You’ll need my password as well, to access my gauntlet. It’s ‘kovu is not scar’, the first letter of each word is capitalized, and the ‘O’s are zeros. And no spaces.”

Got it,” I said, saving the password to a document on K’s holo-gauntlet. I noticed Joëlle giving him a strange look.

“…Is your password a reference to the Lion King?” she asked.

He blushed. “What? I love old cartoons! When I was a kid my dad brought home an archive of old movies from the turn of the millennium. Besides, I’ve been using that password since my mom set up my first q-mail account when I was-”

I just didn’t think you’d be the kind of person to watch musicals made for kids.”

Well, your hobby is reading about time travel, mine is old cartoons.”

She snorted a laugh. “Yes, I read scientific theories, you watch cartoon animals-”

What, don’t tell me you hate cartoons! I mean, you caught what my password was referencing, so you must have seen the movie too…”

You’re right. You know, if I’m being honest, that movie is one of my fav-”

Guys,” said K, struggling to restrain herself. “Osax is about to travel through time.”

Jonathan and Joëlle stopped talking.

I laughed. “I admit… this feels pretty strange. But I’m glad you’re all here to send me off.”

Jonathan stood up. He reached out to shake my hand, and I returned the gesture. “It is strange, saying goodbye, when you’re also right next to us.” He glanced at the other me briefly. “But, you’re still departing on an important mission. So good luck.”

Thank you,” I said.

Joëlle shook my hand next. “See you… well, right now.”

I chuckled. “I guess you will. And I’ll see you…”

In a few days,” said Osax.

I nodded.

So what are you waiting for?” said K.

I turned to face the other me, and stepped toward them. I reached my hand to his. He gave me the ball. Our fingers touched. It was a strange feeling.

It’s ready,” he said. “Just twist the two halves. That will send you backwards through time, outside the city.”

Okay,” I said, taking one last look at everyone. “Just, two more questions before I go.”

Right…” he said. “The first one, I’ll explain when you get back. Or rather… you’ll find out along the way.”

Oh… okay…” I said, hesitantly.

What? What was the question?” K asked.

Osax replied, “‘Who created the spheres?’ Don’t worry, I’ll explain it. But not right now, because-”

Because you didn’t,” I said. My head was spinning. “Alright. I get it.”

I know Joëlle explained the causal loop,” he said, “but I don’t want to take any chances and purposefully try messing things up now. What if it broke the loop?”

That’s not technically possible,” Joëlle said.

Okay. Final question. Do I succeed? Do I get the code?”

He stared at me, blankly, mandibles hanging slightly.

Doubts started to fill my mind. Why didn’t he respond?

Maybe… maybe I can’t do this,” I said.

His eyes locked to mine, and I saw a fire burning within him. “You can,” he said. Then he thrust his hands onto mine, twisting each half of the ball before I could react. I looked down at my hands as he withdrew his; the gold ball disintegrated, and I felt my body heat up. K’s voice faded in my ears and my eyes were blinded with light. I shut them, and suddenly felt wind on my back. I was falling through the air.

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About the author

Seb Woodland

Bio: I'm a writer, game developer, artist, and musician. Just a creative guy working on art and trying to make his way in the world.

-There is always hope-

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