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By Matt Polen

Having outlived their many brothers and sisters, the last two embers of a once blazing fire
finally smolder out of existence, imperceptibly slow in their death. It is just as well – the figure
responsible for tending to the flames wishes not to be seen by those he is observing in the valley
below. Squatting with his hands on his thighs, he picks up a handful of dirt and lets it slip
through his fingers. A strong gust sweeps it away before it hits the ground. The wind has picked
up in the past few hours. Clouds roll in, obscuring completely the infinite points of light in the
night sky. A storm is coming. The man stands and the wind whips his cloak around him,
revealing some of his features. He is large, nearly two meters tall. His build is powerful – his
muscles suggest a lifetime of disciplined conditioning. Yet for all the care this man seems to have
taken of his body, he is worn. His face is unshaven, stubble barely covering numerous scars on
his hollow cheeks. Black hair at shoulder’s length suggests that this man has not been near a
civilized settlement in some time. This sentiment is echoed by his clothing, tattered almost
beyond recognition, sporting numerous tears and more than a few layers of dirt. Only his eyes
appear lively, vivid. Dark brown like the ancient dirt that he stands upon, his eyes reflect the
flashes of light from the valley. There are people down there, but their actions aren’t discernable
from high upon this plateau. Yet, he knows. As he picks up his own sheathed weapon from the
ground next to him, he knows that below him a battle rages. He knows the participants of the
battle. He knows that by the time he’s made his inexorable trek down to the jungle floor below,
only one combatant will remain. He knows because he’s fought this battle before. He knows the
final man’s fate. I know because he’s me.

I was born 27 years before the present date, in the year 2442. Though, in actuality, I’m
much older than that. Much, much older. It still seems impossible. Not unlike many men of my
former profession, I was taken from my parents long before I would be able to form any lasting
memories of them. I wasn’t kidnapped, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. I was
taken by representatives of a military order so mired in secrecy and conspiracy that it would be a
gigantic leap of faith and logic to try and convince anyone that such a strange organization could
exist. And if the things we did were made public, people would scream for blood. We didn’t
represent any one nation or government, so it’s hard to explain just what it is that we did. I use
the word “we” as if I could even be considered a part of that family anymore. I’m not even sure
that I’d want to be. I’m not even sure I could still be considered human. But the man down in the
valley, the man ignorant of the unimaginable fate that awaits him, still fights for that cause, still
has a sense of what it is to be mortal. To be human. I’m not sure I could make such a claim, not
anymore. All of this is as confusing as it sounds.
The past two centuries leading up to the time in which I was born have seen the rise of
human civilization to what many consider to be the peak of their accomplishments. This was
achieved largely in part to exponentially advancing technology. Though, technology isn’t exactly
as straight of a definition as it once was. Not long ago, there was a clear divide between what
was organic, and what was cold, inanimate machinery. But as time progressed, so did the limits
of human capability. No longer were people subject to the same rules of the physical universe as
they were in the past. The technology was unimaginably advanced and widely accessible as well.
The average citizen could alter their genetic code, allowing them to change anything about
themselves: hair, eyes, skin, muscles, intelligence and all the things one would assume a

“reasonable” person might desire to change. But that wasn’t where it ended. It’s impossible to
tell just where it does end, if there are limits. People kept on pushing, kept on altering their
bodies. Genetically, externally – people began grafting things onto their bodies. Humans could
move objects with their minds, create electromagnetic fields around themselves. They could
affect themselves and their environment in innumerable, unfathomable ways.
That’s where we came in. Sometimes – not always, but sometimes, the changes that
people tried to make weren’t always positive. Now, if a human being wants to degrade their own
body with mechanical grafts and genetic manipulation, that’s their own prerogative. But every
once in a while a person would come along who wasn’t content simply to say, make their own
children predisposed to be more intelligent when they were born. Maybe they wanted everyone
else’s children to be a little bit dumber. Maybe they figured out how to control machines with
their minds so they could rig an election here and there. Once a man turned himself green trying
to fuse his DNA with a plant’s so he could have control over his neighbor’s lawns. But my men
and I didn’t deal with the petty cases. I was lucky enough to be selected to join the elite of the
elite. It’s one thing to regulate minor actions like lawn disputes between neighbors. What we
were doing required secrecy, required preparation. We needed to be ready for anything. I was
formally educated in multitudes of subjects ranging from world history to economics to
molecular biology. My physical training was equally rigorous. Trained in all known forms of
hand to hand combat as well as dozens of weapon arts, I was more than a match for any
opponent on the field of battle. Sometimes, battles were what it came down to.
I was a machine. I was their machine. I lived to follow orders and was trained not to
question them. When some wicked soul got a taste of what it is to have and to misuse power, my
men and I showed them what it was to lose that power. The kind of people who do these things,
they’re not right. They don’t just want to better themselves; they want to make sure no one else
has more power than they do. Once, a woman developed a gene that enabled her to control the
minds of others. She was building an army of enthralled slaves to do her bidding. To this day,
I’m still not sure of the reason. Was it simply hedonism, or was it megalomania? After we were
done with her it didn’t matter. We brought a swift end to the whole debacle. Following our orders
to a T, my men and I infiltrated her compound, dropping both the offender and her unwilling
accomplices in hailstorms of gunfire. Cold, calculated, hard justice. Another time, we were sent
out to deal with a man who had been torturing humans and animals, trying to find ways to
transplant various body parts. Needless to say that when that psychotic went down, he did not go
down quietly. Again adhering strictly to the mandates of our mission, we put down his helplessly
disfigured creations as well. I was trained not to question, but sometimes it’s easier said than
The logistics and the morality of the situations we were thrust into were mind-numbing.
Who were we to say which maniacs were more dangerous than others, which ones deserved to
die? There wasn’t even anything we could do to prevent things like this from happening. Our
actions weren’t in the nature of prevention, but reaction. What were we to do, destroy all
knowledge of this technology, these techniques? Even if that weren’t impossible, we surely
would have been crucified for trying to impede the “progress” of the human race. So what we did
was we pushed through it. We were instruments – we had no place to make these decisions, or
even think about them. No power to control our own situation. So we fulfilled our roles
faithfully, loyally, emphatically. There wasn’t a way out. These freaks kept coming and society
was crumbling. We were the only ones in a position to stop it. That was the idea. What a joke that
is. There was no stopping it. We were little Dutch boys, index fingers plugging the hole in the

dam, hoping someone else would come along to fix the problem before we inevitably drowned.
And to top it off, I was the champion of the cause; the poster boy. I was the knight in shining
armor that everyone in the organization looked to. I was unstoppable and I could not be deterred.
Everyone was counting on me to change the world. The truth is you can’t change anything. You
can’t change the past and you can’t change the future. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
As I follow the jagged and winding path down the rock wall to the valley below, the vivid
details of the battle that took place here – that’s taking place here now – hit me like an elbow to
the gut. Even though no one is watching me I hide the grimace that’s fighting to overtake me.
There’s no sense in allowing pain this old to have any control over me. I outgrew such emotions
eons ago. The only concession I’ll grant myself is a moment of pause to regain my footing.
Falling rocks would expose my position to those below. It’s not yet time for my presence to be
known. There’s a chance exposure could change everything. Small, but still a possibility. I’m still
not sure how it all works. No, it’s better to wait. Patience is essential. It’s all about timing.
Fulfilling destinies, accepting your fate. There’s a time and a place for everything.
I remember the call. We were all asleep in the barracks when the alarms jolted to life.
None of us were startled; it was an occurrence as regular as sunrise or sunset. Within ten minutes
we were in full gear awaiting our briefing. Fully enclosed black helmet with internal status
display. Black combat boots, black jumpsuits covered entirely in pockets, straps and pouches.
Five fragmentation grenades, five flash grenades, five tear gas canisters. K45 Dissipation Assault
Rifle with spare power magazines. Utility knife and rations. Cyanide capsules. It’s ironic how
much we relied on advanced technology of our own. Perhaps even hypocritical, however
necessary such things were. We were told only the essential information. This intelligence was
on a need to know basis. All we needed to know was what to kill. It was all routine at this point,
until tonight. The target, we were told, might prove more difficult than what we were used to.
The knowledge he had discovered lent to him certain advantages. This man had garnered a
following of dangerous lunatics who hailed him as a god. I have to admit, if any of the power-
crazed freaks I’ve encountered even came close to resembling a deity it would be this man. What
he had achieved was nothing short of a miracle. He possessed the ability to control the fabric of
time and space. I never found out the exact nature of that control until it was too late.
Procedurally it was like any other mission. We moved under nightfall to the target’s
location. He had been sited making camp in a valley deep in the African continent. Almost
completely surrounded by steep cliffs, it was the perfect place to hide. He must have known we
were coming, somehow. This was a strange notion, being that this man would be the one person
on the planet with no reason to hide from anyone. He had his disciples fanned out across the
entire floor of the valley, conceivably trying to protect him from something. Maybe he needed
time. Time to finish something. His thralls dropped like flies and we didn’t bother to do any
cleanup. The few survivors could be dealt with later. With an objective as dangerous as this it
would be wise not to waste any time. It was as we neared the center of the valley that it all went
to hell.
Everything we knew about anything went out the window. Holes opened up in the sky, in
the ground. Gaping tears created chasms in thin air, sucking in everything around them before
closing as quickly as they opened. One by one the ranks of my squad began to thin as man after
man was torn into nowhere. Soldiers that weren’t ejected suddenly and unceremoniously out of
our plane of existence were simply torn in half by unseen forces, limb from limb, looks of sheer

terror frozen on their faces for eternity. Obviously as desperate as the rest of us, I saw a
compatriot to my left fire widely into one of the holes, waving his rifle from side to side. His
cries of panic were quickly silenced as his head leaped from his body and rolled to the ground
beside me. Not succumbing to the horror of the present moment I pushed through. It was as if
time itself was slowing down. I’d get an inkling of a feeling in the back of my mind and I’d drop
to my knee just in time to narrowly avoid a quick and certain death. I’d juke to my right, jump
and roll myself back into the path of the living yet again. It was instinct that saved me that day.
At least, saved me from dying.
I broke out of the dense jungle into a clearing. Void of any living organisms whatsoever,
it was like a barren island of death in a sea of life. At the center of the circle stood a figure. It was
difficult to tell if he was cloaked or if darkness simply followed him wherever he walked, but
one thing was certain: this was the man I was looking for. I could feel it. As I neared closer it was
still hard to tell what he looked like. He hadn’t seemed to take notice of me. Either that or he
simply hadn’t decided to take any immediate action. I spared myself a glance to the jungle
behind me. I could no longer hear the terrible gale-force roar of air being sucked into the gaping
wounds in space that had killed so many of my men. I could no longer hear their screams and I
realized that I was the only one left. I still felt like I was being watched. Something about this
felt familiar. It was then that he spoke.
“You’re here to stop me.” It wasn’t a question. I could tell now that he was wearing a
hooded cloak. He spoke from behind a mask. Only, it wasn’t a mask. It was blinking with light. I
noticed then that the visible parts of his body – his arms, one of his legs and some of his torso
were covered in cybernetic grafts. He looked like some menacing monstrosity. His voice was
obscured behind all of the gear but his words were clear, as if they were echoing in my mind. I
“That would be the plan. I don’t know what you’re trying to do but it’s not going to
happen. The powers you have are too dangerous for any human being to possess. You must know
“I know who you are, and I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but I’ve invested far too
much to simply lay it all down at an empty threat.”
“If you do know who I am, which I highly doubt, you’ll know I don’t make empty
threats.” Who was this man? How could he possibly know who I am? There’s no physical
documentation of my identity. As far as the world is concerned, I don’t exist. I’m a shadow. My
superiors know how to cover their tracks better than most. They have to. As if reading my
thoughts, he answered.
“I know everything. I know the history of your life. I know that you were sick for most of
your childhood. I know that as a teenager you ran away from the compound and tried to find
your parents, to find out why they gave you up. I know all about your combat training and
education. I know about every mission you’ve ever gone on. I know that even though you’ll
never let it show, right now you’re terrified out of your mind.”
He was right. I’d been uneasy since the beginning of the mission. Going up against a man
who can control the two elemental forces of the universe? It was suicide. My uneasiness had
turned to a gnawing fear that multiplied exponentially with every death I witnessed tonight. With
every tear in the fabric of existence that was opened mere feet from where I had been standing.
Now, faced with the man responsible for it all I was surprised I could even move. More than
likely he’d kill me as soon as the notion struck him. My rifle was useless at this point. My only
hope was to close the distance between us. Engage him in close quarters. Maybe then he

wouldn’t be able to risk ripping open space again. Not when I was too close to him. I began to
edge nearer. I had wasted enough time already. “Let’s settle this.” I could have sworn I heard him
“Very well.”
Not electing to allow him the first strike, I attempted to bludgeon him with the butt of my
rifle. Throwing up his forearm he absorbed the brunt force of my blow, shattering my rifle. This
would not be easy. Taking advantage of my momentary vulnerability, he gripped my arm near the
wrist, twisted it upwards, and followed with a swift punch to my torso. Before I could counter, he
delivered a kick to the inside of my knee. I crumpled to the ground. He was as quick as he was
strong. How could this be happening? I’ve never faced an opponent that I couldn’t quickly
overwhelm. I trained for my entire life for situations like this! Before he could take my head off
with another thrust of his foot, I ducked and rolled under his kick. A split second before I could
attack him, he was gone. As if appearing out of nowhere, he suddenly materialized behind me.
This whole fight had been a façade. There was no way I could best this man in combat. I simply
wasn’t good enough. Not this time. “Go ahead then, finish me. You’ve won.”
“I could kill you easily, if I wanted to. I’m glad you realize that. Though, I think I’ve
caused enough death for tonight. Plus, if I killed you then you wouldn’t learn anything.”
“Learn anything? What the hell are you talking about?”
“You’re all the same. Solve everything with brute force. No thought, no ingenuity. No
finesse. Don’t you know you’re fighting a losing battle? Still, you follow your orders without
question. You make me sick. Your overconfidence disgusts me. Never thought it possible that
you could fail. Pathetic.”
“I don’t need a lecture right now, if it’s all the same to you. At least, not from someone
like yourself.”
“Someone like me? Someone with power? Someone who knows what it is to be able to
truly be the change he wants to see in the world? To truly have control over his destiny?”
“Just shut up and finish this already.”
“I already told you I wasn’t going to kill you. I want to teach you a lesson in humility.
Teach you to respect those superior to yourself. You might be an exceptional warrior, but you
couldn’t possibly defeat me. Not with an eternity of preparation…now there’s a thought.”
“You’re insane.”
“No, I’m a god. There’s a difference. Enough talk. Time to learn your lesson.”
On my knees in front of him, I suddenly found that the only movement I could make was
to keel over in pain. My insides felt like they were boiling. My eyes felt like they would burst at
any moment. My vision flared until I could see nothing but a blinding white light; hear nothing
but an intense buzzing. Then it all subsided. I looked up at my tormentor. “Use your time
wisely.” he offered.
“Fuck off.”
Now instead of a white light there was another rippling black hole in front of me. This
one seemed different from the death traps I had faced in the jungle. I felt a tugging at my center,
felt myself being pulled towards the portal, and for a while there was nothing.
At first I wasn’t sure how long it took me to figure out I wasn’t in Hell. Days? Weeks?
Years? Time no longer had the meaning that it once did. Probably the first clue I got that I wasn’t
damned to eternal torture was that I was the only soul present. It was still hard to tell. This wasn’t
like the world I knew. Seas of molten lava boiled the horizon. What land I managed to survive on

was glassy black volcanic rock. The air was toxic and the temperatures were inestimably hot.
There was no sustenance to speak of. But no matter how hot it got or how many times I thought I
would suffocate or starve to death, I didn’t. I lost all hope. The rules of the universe seemed not
to exist here. Every one of my suicide attempts failed, and I couldn’t explain it. For all intents
and purposes I was invulnerable to injury. Unfortunately, as invincible as I appeared to be, I still
felt the pain. I still felt the scorching burns from the superheated atmosphere. I felt the hunger of
starvation. But I never died.
It was too much for a normal person to handle. It was the worst form of torture I’d ever
experienced. I wanted nothing more than peace or just a moment’s rest. Every moment I faced
was filled with indescribable pain and suffering. Surely this couldn’t be the world I had known.
Eventually I grew accustomed to the pain. It wasn’t that it hurt less or that it went away. But
when it never stops, never lets up, you forget what life is like without it. The pain becomes
almost meaningless and you learn to live with it. Then, over the course of time something
occurred that enabled me to grasp the true gravity of the situation I was in.
A celestial body much larger than the moon had been circled the night skies. It grew
increasingly enormous until finally it collided with the surface, taking chunks of the planet with
it back into orbit, but leaving even more of itself behind. Some of those pieces reformed in the
sky to reveal a recognizable figure. The magnificence of it was beyond all comprehension. It was
as if the titans of the universe were in a war for dominance of the night sky. But I was a student
of history and I recognized this event for what it was. I was in the Hadean eon; I had just
witnessed the formation of the moon above the surface of an infant Earth.
That bastard. I knew as scientific fact that the formation of the moon, by way of
impacting the Earth, had taken nearly 40 million years. The bastard! He hadn’t been joking. I
knew he was powerful. The fact that he had bested me in combat was only the tip of the iceberg.
But when he alluded to the fact that I’d never defeat him even with an eternity of preparation, the
last thing on my mind was taking him literally. His power still astounds me even at my old age.
He must have frozen me in time and torn me through a wormhole. I can’t be sure of the how.
Only the result. He must have thought that this would be some sick and ingenious form of
torture. Make a man immortal, send him to some kind of psychological hell? The fool must’ve
thought I’d lose my sanity before I would even consider taking advantage of his twisted offer. He
was almost right. Almost. But talk about overconfidence. He’s the epitome of that fatal flaw. His
decision seems so rash now in retrospect that it practically seems suspicious. That man made
himself a rival that day. He thinks he’s a god? He granted me immortality and all the time in the
world to prepare to fight again. Literally. It wasn’t about right or wrong anymore, about
upholding the law. It was about what he did to me. It was about revenge. I was going to make
him wish he had just killed me when he had the chance.
The first few billion or so years were the hardest. I don’t think I even slept until the planet
cooled. Earth’s early eons, for me, consisted of battling against nature itself. Constant volcanic
eruptions and an almost unendurable storm of comets and meteorites bombarding the surface left
me more than just a little jittery. I spent unknown amounts of time simply wandering deliriously.
I longed for something familiar. For some relief from this uncaring spheroid so intent on driving
me mad with its unrelenting chaos. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of
punishing the man responsible for my fate. How narrow of me. I could think of only one moment
billions of years in the future. The surface eventually cooled and the oceans flooded nearly
everything. Inevitably, the supercontinent Pangaea formed and I was finally granted the privilege

of something I knew: solid land with useable resources. I could construct shelters and live off of
the land.
But changes like this didn’t happen overnight. The notion of measurable time escaped
me. I still experienced the passage of time in the linear manner common to humans, but it didn’t
have the same meaning anymore. There was no sense of urgency to accomplish any great feats
before my death. I wasn’t going to die of old age. Still, I passed time in constructive ways. I
spent those days hunting the prehistoric life forms that dominated the world. Strange, exotic
creatures not yet singled out by natural selection. Giant scorpion-like organisms roamed the
deserts; enormous flying insects loomed like dragons in the skies. It was awe inspiring. I learned
from these creatures. I learned how to stalk prey and how to escape the most lethal predators. I
learned how to adapt. My lust for revenge didn’t fade, but it began to manifest itself in subtler
ways. I lost myself in the ancient world. With an ice-age here and a mass extinction there life
was beginning to seem like a routine. Simple, even. I was surviving. I was training. On some
level I realized that if I held onto those negative emotions that they’d eat away at me and make
me a shell of what I was. The desire for retribution still existed, but not in the same way. So I
went about my business, whittling away at the years between myself and the moment in
But simple survival wasn’t enough. I longed for certain things. Among them,
companionship. Of any kind. Friend, enemy, lover, I would gladly have taken any. But I knew
better. I made pets out of the creatures of the era, but like all life they soon faded. And at any
rate, dinosaurs are poor substitutes for sentient life. I hadn’t truly spoken to another being aside
from myself in thousands of millennia. The words I wished to speak ate at my insides. After a
time, certain organisms began to resemble their modern successors. Alligators, sharks, dinosaurs.
From this, I was able to determine that I had anywhere from 230 to 60 million years until
anything even remotely resembling a human being would evolve. Continents were beginning to
drift. Lakes widened to become seas, to become oceans. Land masses collided; plains became
hills that thrust themselves skyward to form mountains. Everything was changing. Except me. I
simply existed. I couldn’t help but spend all my time waiting for the one far off moment when I
knew that I could redeem myself. The thought wore away at me.
But the things you take for granted still have a way of surprising you. My roaming
invariably took me to the newly formed African continent, where I spent a period of time
exploring the savannah. Stalking across the plains of tall grass, parting the flora cautiously, I had
the sense that I was being watched. I turned and behind me on the knoll, head peaking cautiously
above the grass was an ape-like creature. I was elated. I was so much closer to being around
other humans again that it was almost intoxicating. I would be able to converse, discuss, teach,
learn, anything! Then I had a sobering thought. These next few million years would be critical to
human evolution. I could have a profound influence on the history of the world if I wasn’t
careful. Even if my intentions were noble, I might accidentally alter the course of history for the
worse. I made it my mission to simply observe these creatures as they progressed, not interfering
in any way, and trying not to let myself be seen. This was easier said than done.
On a whim I made one last trek around the continents, if only to experience the Earth one
last time before humanity altered it irrevocably. Then I made my way back to the savannah to
check the progress of my ancestors. While observing a group of primitive man-like creatures, I
realized that their rudimentary society was not progressing as I thought it would. They hadn’t yet
learned anything resembling agriculture, nor had they discovered the art of hunting. Even fire

escaped the grasp of these poor souls. I watched as they died younger and younger. Throughout
time I had seen many species die out. It was a natural process. But how could I watch as my
distant ancestors suffered as I had, struggling against the harsh forces of nature? So I made a
difficult decision. I could stand idly by no longer. I tracked a large wildebeest close to their
camp, and when I knew I was within their field of vision I felled the great beast with an
improvised spear and some clever maneuvers. I left the kill for them to feast on. I watched and
my satisfaction turned to horror as they fought over the meat, beating and trampling each other.
What had I done? Had I interfered in too large of a way? Even worse, I began to see paintings on
cave walls left behind after the nomads had moved on. Art that depicted figures strangely similar
to myself and the creature I had hunted. Were these people worshipping me? Had I made myself
into a god? One thing was certain; I had inserted myself into the canon of history, for better or
I made a personal declaration never to aide or inhibit the progress of the human race ever
again. Naturally, I made many exceptions. I may have no longer been a human in the
conventional sense of aging or injury, but I was very much a human emotionally. Drawn
inexorably into civilization I found myself participating in many events, ranging in scale from
the miniscule to the epic. Owing to my former profession, many of these events happened to be
wars. I fought in the Trojan War, traveled with Alexander the Great as he conquered the “known
world”. I fought with the allies against Adolf Hitler. On more than one occasion I lent a hand to
some downtrodden revolutionaries. I wondered whether or not my actions had any impact on the
course of history. A few times I took drastic measures to find an answer.
Every so often I’d attempt to assassinate some totalitarian leader or stop a man-made
disaster from claiming lives, but it always ended in one of two ways: either unseen forces would
prevent me from taking action or the event would happen anyways. Take a shot at Stalin, the gun
misfires or mysteriously misses. Try to stop the Titanic from sinking and it’ll just crash into the
dock on arrival. It appeared that there were certain events that I could not change, or that the
reason that they happened was because of my interference. For all intents and purposes I was
unable to affect the greater flow of time. So I continued to take part in world history, but now
without worry of ruining my chances of getting back to my time. So I continued to train.
Studying forms of martial arts and weapons from books and trainers is nothing in comparison to
learning from the masters themselves. I relearned combat with Roman soldiers, with Spartans,
with Vikings. I meditated with the Shaolin monks and lived by the Bushido code of the Japanese
But it wasn’t all about the art of war. I observed the ancient Egyptians building the
pyramids and the construction of the great wall. They weren’t as beautiful as I would have
expected. They were, as so many things were in ancient times, fabricated through unwilling slave
labor. I was learning things about human nature. There was a certain duality inherent in the
species. True beauty came within my grasp during my years in Europe during the Renaissance.
Yet I also witnessed horrors like the Holocaust during the Second World War. Was humanity
worth saving? Yes. There was always evil in the world, but there wasn’t any reason not to fight
against it. Human life is fragile and full of pain and suffering. But if there is at least one person
out there who appreciates life, and I’ve met many, then I’d continue to maintain the balance
between right and wrong. I was also rediscovering what it was that I missed so much about being
human – mortality. The fact that life is finite is what inspires human beings to dedicate
themselves to a cause, to give their life meaning. I wanted that back. I was more inspired than

ever to continue my training and meditation until the night when I would get the chance to prove
myself. My time would soon be at hand.
The valley floor feels damp and spongy under my boots. Twigs crack as I make no effort
to tread softly. No concern need be shown to mask my presence. Not anymore. Sounds of the
battle that has recently ended still seem to echo in the air. I can feel the screams that rang out as
the men of my squad were torn through the air into black holes of death. I am not alone. A group
of my rival’s honor guard – his devoted followers – has detected me. They are the remnants of a
larger pool of soldiers that was left behind as my men and I blew through them. Egos freshly
damaged from the battle, they’re looking for a fight more than ever. The fact that their master
had to make the kills himself doesn’t help.
One, presumably the leader, breaks from the group to intercept me. He makes a show of
it: cracking his knuckles, rolling his head side to side to crack his vertebrae. Not knowing that
he’s picked a fight with the most ancient power on the planet, he expects it to be easy. I don’t
bother to unsheathe my blade. I don’t even slow down. When I am within paces of him he makes
an attempt for a grapple. Before he can blink I’ve put my fist straight through his torso. I pull my
blood-smeared arm out slowly and his body drops to the ground with a lifeless thud. I’m doing
the others a favor, showing them what I can do. I just saved their lives. They quickly scatter,
forgetting their loyalty to their master.
I keep walking and I can see the clearing a short distance away. Stepping over smashed
helmets, body parts and soldier-less weapons I make my way to the edge of the clearing, to
watch. Yes, the thought had crossed my mind a million times to intervene. I could try to stop
myself from suffering this fate. But I won’t. I’ve been through too much, learned too much, felt
too much to deny myself that. I’m not even sure it would work. I watch my younger self fighting
him. So sure of myself, despite my fear, that I could win. A righteous warrior pitting himself
against the forces of evil. How naïve. How ignorant. I understand my role perfectly now. I am
still the soldier fighting for justice against evil, but my purpose is different. If there’s one thing
that I learned throughout my trials it’s that there is a balance between good and evil in the world.
You can’t eradicate either; there is no real victory of one force over the other. There is only a
perpetual struggle to maintain that balance. A mere mortal with power over time and space
threatens to throw the world out of balance. I will put things right.
I see myself on my knees, still proud that I did not beg. A twinge of pain spikes inside my
chest, a remnant of the pain my former self is feeling now. A flash of light and he is gone, only
the madman is still left in the clearing. He crumples to the ground and begins struggling to stand
up. Apparently he doesn’t have complete control over his power. This is going to be easier than I
thought. But I won’t fall to my overconfidence again. I won’t give him a chance to beat me
again. Without a moment more of hesitation I step into the clearing. Having pulled himself back
on his feet, the man looks at me through his hood.
“What the hell are you doing here…?”
“Didn’t expect to see me again, did you?”
“If you’re here then it was all for nothing. I’ve failed. Don’t you know what this means?”
I’m not going to make the same mistake twice. No stalling this time. Quicker than the
naked mortal eye could possibly see I draw my blade. Rolling to close the distance, I quickly
jump to my feet and swing my sword in a decapitating arc.
“You fool! Wait!” He leans back just fast enough to avoid losing his head, but my blade
catches some of the circuitry covering his face and slices it clean off. It falls to the dirt and I’m

left looking an all too familiar face straight in the eyes. I’m frozen with shock, my senses barely
registering the soft thump as my sword hits the dirt. As quickly as it stopped my mind begins to
race. It begins to rain. Chest heaving with exhaustion, he speaks.
“You’re beginning to understand now, aren’t you?”
“How…how is this possible?”
“Don’t act so stunned. This hasn’t exactly all worked out as I intended.”
“How can we even exist at the same time?”
“Like I said, these weren’t the desired results. After I sent you – myself – through time,
you were supposed to end up in an alternate timeline. A reality where you could rule, shape the
world as you saw fit. Stop it from becoming like this.”
“You really can’t see why? Because of the world we live in! The state of society! People
altering themselves in unspeakable ways, at each other’s throats trying to dominate every other
being on the planet! It’s all gone too far. There wasn’t any way to stop it. So I decided to take
matters into my own hands. I had had enough. I grew weary of fighting the same battles over and
over again. I had to find a way to fight fire with fire. I discovered my own modifications. I rival
the power of God himself.”
“You’re insane! How could I become capable of this?!”
“Think about it. Think about how fed up you were with your situation. The
powerlessness. The inability to do anything to stop the world from crumbling around you. You
can’t call me a villain. I’m simply what you would have become.”
“Why not just send yourself back in time, leave me out of the equation?”
“Because to tell you the truth, I’m not in complete control of these powers. I came back
to a time before I was corrupted, hoping that if I sent you back you’d be able to stop it all
somehow. I made you a god. I gave you the power and motivation to change the world.
Somebody had to hold the portal open while the person went through. And I was the only one I
trusted to do both tasks. But I guess it didn’t work out like I thought.”
So this is what it’s come down to. I did this to myself. Foolish. I thought I knew
everything. Even after an eternity I can still be shown that I’m wrong. But there’s still a chance
to make things right. “This doesn’t change anything. These powers you have are still too much
for any mere mortal. What you’ve tried to do here tonight proves that. You still have to be
“I can’t say I blame you. Stop me if you can. But don’t forget – you may be a god on the
outside, but your soul is still mortal. Don’t make the same mistake I did.”
I catch my sword with my foot and flip it up into my hand. He hesitates for a moment to
tear one last hole in the fabric of existence. It’s all I need. With the speed borne out of billions of
years of physical training I plunge my blade straight into his abdomen. We both feel the pain. He
looks up at me – stoic. Refusing to let the enemy see you suffer. We truly are one in the same. I
kick him in the chest and he slips off my blade, torn away into nothingness. The hole closes
behind him.
Yet again I’m faced with a choice. I’ve learned a valuable lesson tonight. The power to
control the forces that make up reality isn’t something a mortal man should desire. Nor would I
wish them on any being. They’re a terrible burden. To know that you’re capable of great and
terrible things is a difficult fact to face. I’ve succumbed to it before. Would civilization have
developed the same way if I hadn’t interfered? Or was I always there, always leaving my mark? I
can’t say. But I’ve come at least a little closer to redeeming myself, by ridding the world of a

soul that couldn’t handle power. There will be more. There always are. Do I have the fortitude to
go back to it all? I don’t want to fight anymore. Maybe there’s another way. I’m in new territory
now. For the first time in my life I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I think for a second
about leaving my sword behind for good, but then again, there may come a time when I need it. I
can’t see it through the storm clouds but I know that the sun is rising. I sheathe my sword and
take the first step on a new path.