For three years, with increasing alarm, astronomers had been tracking an astroid. From far out in space, the trajectory was indeterminate: would it be a near miss or direct hit? But as it got closer it became clear that this would be a cataclysmic event. Human life would become extinct.
Most folks planned to die with their families. But Xavier had an ace up his sleeve. That's because Xavier had a time machine. He could elude doomsday by escaping into the past.
But that was complicated. For one thing, you couldn't travel back to a time before you existed. Your conception was the terminus ad quo for time travel. So the timeframe was limited to the span between your present and you personal past.
Another problem was keeping the time machine a secret. Who could he trust to tell? People would kill for the time machine. If the authorities found out about it, the government would confiscate the machine. How could Xavier use the time machine to save himself and his loved ones from encroaching oblivion?
If he told his parents or his brother Damien or his best friend, they'd tell their other loved ones, so that knowledge of the time machine would become widely known. But there was only one time machine. It had to be a closely-guarded secret for Xavier to use it.
The question was who to leave behind to. They had no future. Only a past. And some of them didn't have much of a past to retreat into. His older brother Damien had little kids. Damien couldn't take them with him if he went too far back into his own past. His kids didn't exist when he was young. Xavier knew that Damien would rather die with them than leave them behind.
When you traveled from the present to the past, you aged down. Your age corresponded when you were alive. So you had to decide where you wanted to reset the lifecycle. Xavier didn't wish to be a little boy again. It would have to be when he was a teenager, maybe in junior high or high school.
The machine could be programmed to repeat one day from the past, or the same week, or the same month, or the same year. When it came to the end of programmed interval, it would repeat the process. Xavier had a happy childhood. He was raised on a ranch in Montana. He loved the out of doors. The seasons, fields and streams, mountain views, and horseback riding. That was his preference. It also gave him a chance to be reunited with his late grandparents.
In a sense, his loved ones didn't have to use the time machine to avert the future. They'd die in the near-future, but exist in the past. If he didn't tell them, he wasn't really leaving them behind. He hadn't abandoned them. Because he'd find them in the past, as if they were waiting for him. They'd still be there, just like before.
If you traveled from the present to the past, you remembered the future you came from. But if you didn't reenter the past from the future, you didn't know the future, since you hadn't experienced the future as of yet. Living in the past, you didn't exist in that future.
In a way, Xavier couldn't save his loved ones from the future. They had no future. It was sufficient for him alone to use the time machine. To program it for a particular period. To be repeated. That way they'd be reunited in the past. And only he'd remember the ill-fated future. He was conferring immortality on his loved ones through a temporal loop. And they wouldn't know the difference. Every time it reached the end, it would revert to the beginning. A process that reset their memories. Only Xavier would recollect the whole story. Not just the timeloop but the impact event.
Yet there were tradeoffs. For his loved ones, it was always like experiencing that year for the very first time, no matter how often it repeated. But Xavier's memory transcended the temporal loop. He was consciously revisiting the same year every time, day after day. To stave off tedium, he didn't simply relive his past. He did different things. It gave him a chance to do a lot of reading and thinking. To explore. To spend more time with Damien and their grandparents.
Xavier had never been very religious, but with so much time on his hands, and the need to do something new to stave off the deadening repetition, he began to read the Bible. That opened up a whole new world for him. A future beyond the future cataclysm. An afterlife beyond extinction.
He began to wonder if, by delaying death indefinitely, he wasn't cheating death. Was he missing out on something better? Were his loved ones missing out on something better?
At first there was no sense of urgency. He was safe in the past. He couldn't die in the past.
Or could he? Did the fact that he survived right up to the brink of doosmday mean he was immortal so long as he remained in the past? The fact that he originally made it that far meant he hadn't died in the past.
But as he thought more about it, maybe he could die in the past. Originally, he lived to a certain age because he did certain things. He avoided fatal accidents.
But by consciously returning to the past, over and over again, he wasn't simply retracing his steps. For the sake of variety, he was doing different things in the past than the first time around. He wasn't reliving his past, but revisiting an particular time and place. And he was free to vary his routine, to avoid tedium. Indeed, it became increasingly hard even to remember what his original past was like. It became a blur with each new iteration of the time-loop.
So perhaps he could die in the past by doing something different. Suffer a fatal accident. Snakebite. Breaking his neck falling off a horse. Shot to death in a barroom brawl. His current past wasn't the same past that led up to his original future. Every time he did something different, that was a pathway to an alternate future–a future in which he didn't originally exist. That raised time-travel paradoxes, and he wasn't sure how seriously to take it. Too much to lose by finding out the hard way.
It's not as if he couldn't die no matter how recklessly he behaved. He wasn't indestructible. Not that he was reckless, but the prospect spooked him. Traveling back into the past, he initially lost his fear of death. But it now occurred to him that his confidence might be misplaced, because he was changing variables.
And there were worse things than death. Damnation was incomparably worse than death. Of course, death was often portal to hell, but in his case that was self-fulfilling. He hadn't prepared himself for death. He thought he could keep it at bay indefinitely. So there was no pressing need to repent, to think about God, to be worshipful or engage in spiritual examination. Yet maybe he was just lucky up to this point, and his luck might run out.
And not just for himself, but for his loved ones. Could he actually protect them by keeping them sequestered in the past? Because he did different things, they did different things in response. So maybe they, too, were now at risk. Were they heavenbound or hellbound? Having read the Bible so often during the timeloops, and attending church, he began to share the Gospel with his parents, grandparents, and brother.
He then decided if he should destroy the time machine. If he did that, it would restore the status quo ante. They'd all die in the impact event. But maybe the solution was to move forward, not backward. Not hide in the past, but accept death as a portal to heaven and the world to come.