The Arbiter of Time
"You won't believe what I saw in there..."
"Gods are real... And we ticked 'em off..."
"Trevor, did you just say gods? As in, more than one?"
"'fraid so, Dan. Now, if we're gonna finish our mission, we'll need to kill one."
Fear gripped Trevor's mind like a vice as the click of the braces being secured to his forearms echoed throughout the warehouse. The crew preparing his suit stepped back, proud of their work. Their smug expressions disgusted him. He knew they didn't fully grasp the weight of what he was about to do. How could they? Of those who witnessed that strange being, only he lived to relay its description. Oh how he'd struggled to paint an accurate picture of the otherworldly entity. When words failed him, Trevor attempted to draw the image trapped at the forefront of his mind, but it could not be expressed on paper. Nothing he did felt right. He knew the only way anyone would understand is if they saw it themselves, and if his mission was a success, that'd be impossible. This would forever be his burden to bear.
A countdown appeared on the monitor adjacent to him, followed shortly by the whir of the time machine warming up. Trevor chuckled to himself as the crew talked among themselves about "warming up" the machine. It was actually quite the opposite. Time travel required below freezing temperatures. He had two canisters of liquid nitrogen strapped to his back for just this purpose. During the first mission, some of the other travelers eschewed a second canister in exchange for more surveying gear. They all thought it'd be fine. They were all wrong. Without nitrogen to cool their suits, the time tunnel's blistering conditions overwhelmed them. A shiver ran down Trevor's spine as the scorched faces of his comrades flashed before his eyes.
The monitor's countdown reached the minute mark. Dan's hand came down hard on Trevor's shoulder, giving it a tight squeeze. "You ready for this, man?"
Trevor gave Dan a steely look, "Do I have any choice but to be?"
Dan winced slightly, "Well... No, Trev. You and I both know that. We have to prevent this war..."
"I know, Dan. If that assassination is allowed to go through, if we can't keep the president alive, that's it for us. Who would have thought the fate of the world would be tied so closely to a single life..."
"Yeah well that's what happens when the country's highest ranking officials have their finger constantly poised over the goddamn nuke button." Dan sighed, "Look, that president is a dolt. We both know it. But the cabinet he's assembled is just as idiotic and bloodthirsty as he is. If he doesn't live, they'll declare war. It doesn't matter what else we try to change in the past, the only option we have is for that bumbling fool to live."
Suddenly a computerized voice broke through the conversation, "30 seconds remain!"
Dan patted Trevor on the back and began to turn around, "You've got this, bud."
Tightening the various straps on his suit, Trevor walked toward the machine's core chamber, "I better... For all of our sake's..."
Trevor had barely gotten in position in the chamber before its door was vacuum sealed behind him. There'd be no turning back now. The machine couldn't be stopped once it was this close to launch. The crew had been sure to emphasize that to him constantly. "If you're gonna chicken out, do it before we shut that door, 'cause we ain't wrenching it open until your return trip."
It didn't matter to Trevor, though. He knew quitting wasn't an option. Within weeks 80% of the free world would be in ruins. The nuclear fallout would leave the planet uninhabitable for centuries. Humanity was his to save.
The computerized voice could barely be heard within the chamber, "5
Engaging temporal wormhole!"
The tug of time was one Trevor doubted he'd ever get used to. It felt as if his entire life was passing him by in an instant. He somehow felt both infantile and elderly; yet, he had not aged. In fact, time for him was now frozen. As quickly as it began, the journey ended. The chamber door clicked and began to swing open.
Stepping outside into the strange world between time was utterly terrifying. Nothing in this land was comprehensible to a human mind. To make matters worse, everything within was perfectly preserved. Meaning Trevor was greeted back into this world by the sight of those who fell the last time he was there. He ignored the dead before him and began walking. It didn't take long for the throne to come into sight. And there upon it was that entity that could only be described as a god.
"Back again, little one?" the god bellowed.
Trevor swallowed hard, "As we tried to tell you last time, we must finish our mission. The fate of our world relies on it!"
The god shifted in its throne, resting its massive head upon its hand, "And you think the fate of a single species is important enough to alter time itself? How arrogant your kind must be."
"It is not just a single species, though! Should time not be altered, Earth itself will become a wasteland. All life on the planet will struggle to survive."
"Well," the god yawned, the force of its exhale pushing Trevor back a few inches, "to me that simply sounds like a cosmic lesson. If even just a handful of the other species in the universe stumble upon your planet and gain humility from your self-destruction, the death toll will be more than equalized."
"So that's it, then? You'd have us all die as a lesson?!"
The god pushed itself up in its chair, leaning over until its head was almost level with Trevor's, "Allow me to skip to the end of this little engagement. You aim to try and kill me. You have three weapons on your person, each of increasing intensity, with the hope that one of them will do the job."
Trevor's eyes grew wide, "How did you-?"
The god laughed, "I control time, you pathetic creature! I see all that was and all that can be! The arrogance your species shows disgusts me. I will be glad to see your kind etch their final mark in the timeline."
Trevor's hand shot to a cord on his side, and before the time god could react, a small explosion encompassed the immediate area. The god chuckled, "And what was that, human? If you think a small concussive force can end me, you're even dumber than I thought!" The chuckling turned into a hearty laugh, but within seconds that laugh came crashing down as realization struck the god. "Wait... Why did I not see that outcome? What have you done, human?!"
A smirk appeared on Trevor's face, "Our scientists figured you'd be able to see through time. They didn't have much time, so this tech is highly experimental. Hell, I could blow up any minute now. But it doesn't matter. I was never planning on making it back home. From the beginning, this was a-"
"-suicide mission!" As the god realized it had been tricked, it pushed itself out of its throne. It towered over Trevor, the man not even coming to the being's knee. In one swift motion, it swept its hand along the ground, catching Trevor. It held Trevor before its face and smiled. "You have lost, human. It was a valiant attempt though. You actually made me feel fear. I wasn't even sure that was possible."
"What was that?!" The god demanded.
A resigned countenance overcame Trevor, "That... That was humanity's hope." As the button under Trevor's thumb was released, the various nitrogen packs he'd had stashed among his suit emptied themselves.
The god howled in rage, "You damnable fool! You cannot even begin to comprehend the effects this will have on the univer-" It never got to finish its sentence. The nitrogen froze both the god and Trevor solid. As the final pack ran out of liquid, a beacon lit up.
Back in the control room, a small red light began to blink. Cheers erupted from the crew. Only Dan remained silent. He knew the light meant Trevor had succeeded. He also knew that meant his friend wouldn't be coming back. It was time for his half of the mission now.
The machine was already prepared for his trip. He stepped in without hesitation. Dan wouldn't risk wasting time and having Trevor's death be in vain. He felt the tug of time, just as it'd been described to him. He knew within moments he'd be stepping out into that strange, incomprehensible world.
Whirring ceased. The door clicked, and began to swing open. Dan took a deep breath and stepped toward the outside. He placed one foot out the door, and immediately had to grab the door for support. There was no ground beneath his feet. As he peered out, he realized this place was nothing like what Trevor had described. Dan saw nothing. As far as he could see, there was nothing but black. Reality came crashing down on him. He fell to his knees and began to sob.
A radio in the back of the chamber cackled. "Dan? Dan! Reports every five minutes, remember? We can't take any risks on this one!"
A shaky hand grabbed the receiver, "We fucked up..."
"What? Dan, speak more clearly! It sounded like you said we-"
"We fucked up! Goddamn we were stupid... To kill a god..."
"Dan, what is it? What do you see?"
"Nothing. We've unraveled time. We not only doomed ourselves, we've doomed everything."