“It’s like you don’t even care anymore! But I know that can’t be true, because I could never stop caring, I could never forget what happened. It’s with me everywhere I go, no matter what I do. I could never be so cold.”
“Don’t you think I’ve already tried that a hundred times over? It doesn’t matter, no matter what we do, either he dies, or they die, or worse!”
“Yes, much worse!” he said quietly while sitting down on the half wall with his knees out, looking down at the muddy ground between his feet.
We both sat in silence for a few minutes.
Finally, I broke in. “Hundreds of time?”
“Yes, like the worst nightmare that you can never wake up from. I relived his death, over and over and over again.”
More silence while I tried to comprehend what my elder was saying. “You couldn’t save him ever?”
“Oh, saving him was the easy part, sure, but then all of the others died. Or if I went back far enough and cooked things just right I could save him and them, but…” he choked, maybe there was hope for him after all.
“If I saved them all, the variance was too great. It destabilized everything and in the best case scenario, thousands of others died.”
“And in the worst?” I dared to ask.
“In the worst, nations rose and nations fell that never should have. Cultures shifted and the entire world took a sharp turn toward complete disaster.”
“How? How could such a tiny pivot point, possibly leverage so much change?” I wanted to question his attempts, surely he had missed something, not seen the whole equation, but I knew that couldn’t be true. I knew I would never be so sloppy. I may not trust him as a person, but I knew I could trust him in this.
He waited for me to question him more, to see if I would question his abilities. I didn’t, he would be disappointed… I think.
Finally he answered. “It always is… It always is the seemingly little things that make huge impacts. Assassinate Hitler before he becomes the Chancellor, and you merely delay the war by a few months. But sacrifice yourself in an act of kindness in his childhood and you may prevent 50 million deaths.”
“But you’re wrong! You’re wrong in viewing what he did as something ‘tiny.’ Self sacrifice is never tiny, it just seems that way because the effects aren’t readily apparent, not right away. They ripple through time and space and lives and cultures.”
Suddenly I began to realize why he was who he was. For the first time, I had a glimpse of understanding how I could become him. When I started time traveling it was like the chains had been loosed, I had been set free, and with such power that I never dreamed of. I thought I could do anything, that we could mold a perfect world in the image that we desired. I had new hope. But he is past that, he’s seen its limitation, he’s suffered the consequences of trying to play god. Like Icarus, he flew too close to the sun and was burned.
This isn’t freedom, it’s a weight. A heavier burden than I had ever born before. I felt a new bond now as I glanced down at my wrist.
Maybe we couldn’t save Dad, my heart dropped into my stomach as I said the words in my mind, but I could still save the future. I wasn’t so jaded, yet. No! I never would be that jaded, I would learn from his mistakes and not venture off on some selfish quest to save my own Dad.
My duty returned to me, my head cleared. And with a forceful clarity, I remembered, I still had to stop him.