Jules stood alone in the Proteus desert on Empyrean. He’d never been first before, not in any of the trillions of light cones. Good. He was at the front then, making a real change.
He wouldn’t be alone for long. But as the seconds dragged on he didn’t know what to do with himself. Always on guard, he quickly looked around—not for signs of the impending cataclysm, but just for the pleasure of looking. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d enjoyed a view.
Through the filters and enhancements of his visor the sky was a swirl of color, like he was under the dome of a planet-sized soap bubble. It was a binary system, the white dwarf preparing to go type one-A, syphoning the life from its blue hypergiant companion in a stellar murder-suicide. Jules pondered that. Justice wasn’t quite the right word; perhaps poetic violence. It was beautiful.
Another figure stood now on the cracked Protean earth, a black monolith in the bright emptiness. His temporal armor spit out a cloud of neutrinos like smoke, and his light trail shot away into the sky, his arrival preceding his approach. A quirk of FTL. One of many.
The moment had arrived, then. Not just the here, but the now. This minute was the front line in the time war. Jules had been studying the permutations for years in their recursive, endless variation. Unfortunately, he was on both sides. Another quirk.
Jules ran at his time-ravaged duplicate as more began to arrive. He dodged incoming fire in a choreography built of probabilities as sky tanks swooped low, the heat of their fusion breath charring the back of the desert’s neck. The ground percussed like a snare head while death machines from distant tomorrows erupted up from the depths of Empyrean, buried alive and now awoken from a million years’ slumber to share their molten nightmares. And in the chaos, Jules grappled with a demon from another time who shared his face, but not his fate.
Both their weapons were spent. They tumbled to the ground in the most evenly matched hand-to-hand combat the universe would begrudgingly allow. He wrapped his legs around his opponent’s and clambered for his helmet latches, all the while taking elbows to the head from what seemed like three or four arms.
A rent in spacetime reared and crested overhead like a pitch black tsunami coming to swallow the planet whole. Starships flashed out of existence in the sky in a froth of teal and orange and ultraviolet.
His fingers clawed at the helmet lock as they rolled in the dust, at last finding purchase and tearing the whole thing off. Jules didn’t look at his face, but his scream was the pure sound of madness. He ran off to find another.
The battle would be brief, he knew, and the supernova would decimate any evidence it had happened at all in just a short while. But this was the inflection point where all futures would be decided.
That’s not what he fought for, though. He fought because if he lost, he knew they would send him back again.
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Jean-Pascal Mouton, used with permission.