Time travel was dangerous. I think science-fiction made that point clear. Step on the wrong blade of grass in the prehistoric times and humans might end up developing pangolin tongues in the present time. Okay, bad example, that would be cool as hell.
Point is, you might cause all life in the world to go extinct, just by nudging one tiny thing into the wrong direction. Butterfly effect they call that, right? Yet, when we figured out how to travel back in time, of course we were curious. We’ve got bones of the past, sure, but what about the meat that was wrapped around it all that time ago? We could speculate what these creatures might have looked like, but we also knew that nature didn’t do what made the most sense, it just did whatever worked. The T-Rex might have been bright pink for all that we knew.
Of course we didn’t just pop into the past and set up a souvenir stand. In fact, we all agreed to not set a single foot into the past ever. Well, I say we, but I wasn’t actually part of the time travel scientists deciding that. I couldn’t wrap my head around that stuff and remember it for more than an hour before forgetting it all again. I was just here to look at the pictures and analyze the fauna. Which was the idea. We just took pictures of the past. No harm done, right?
Prof. Sheri Yadegari explained to me how complicated this time travel stuff was. I didn’t doubt it. It was odd, seeing someone my age with a professor title. When she explained it to me I kind of just watched her lips move, but the info I would’ve taken away from the talk would probably be the same either way. She talked about how time and space was linked and that it was a problem how Earth barreled through space like no one’s business and the fine calculations you had to do so the photo of the past actually showed Earth and also wasn’t halfway stuck in an anthill or miles in the sky were the dinos were just little dots on the ground. Really, the chance that anything interesting actually ended up on the photos was rather slim and if this time didn’t work out it might be years to run the calculations for another try. We all hoped we wouldn’t get any red eyes on the parasaurolophuses.
It felt a bit like attaining forbidden knowledge, this whole thing. Part of me expected to see something unspeakably horrible in the past. The moment humanity’s curiosity finally went too far and we started messing with things our underdeveloped minds could not handle. What if there was just a guy in a neon fursuit among a herd of dimetrodon? That would be so fucked up.
Now that I think about it, as silly as that sounds, what would that say about our universe? It would point out that we fundamentally misunderstood how anything works if this was a thing that’s possible. Yeah, there was a reason I didn’t have a professor title if this was what occupied my mind at a time like that.
Well, we waited. 41 seconds until the time was right and the device would send us a bunch of photos. Everybody already saw the cover of the time magazine depicting a real life picture of two brontosauruses fucking were the White House now stands.
Eventually the first one of 136 pictures, taken in quick succession before the window into the past only peered into the dark dirt of the Earth, arrived on screen.
Well, there were dinosaurs on there. They didn’t look exactly like they did on National Geographics but didn’t differ in surprising ways. There were trees and grass, like there always was on Earth. The dinos we saw, slightly off center, to the right, there were triceratops and two young. That’s not what caught our eyes though. I never considered that there might have been beings on old Earth that never left behind any corpses for us to find millenia later. I’m not sure if what we saw was even capable of dying. It looked more like a machine than a living being. But even for a machine, it’s body was disgustingly rectilinear. It didn’t look like anything possible in nature, more like if someone drew it on there with a photo manipulation device. I would have believed the photographing device acted up, this was its first use after all, but the creature actually interacted with its environment, even if the environment didn’t interact with it. What I mean with that, well, basically it looked like a sheet ghost. Like a white sheet draped over whatever the hell could be underneath. But there was not a single wrinkle in the cloth. It hung in the air like an abstract jellyfish. It’s body looked perfectly smooth but didn’t shine and it threw no shade. It’s ‘head’ was a perfect circle. The rest of its cloth body hung down from it, though it was hard to tell if the two were attached at all. The ‘torso’ was shaped like an elongated pyramid that was neither affected by wind or gravity. Further down the sheet turned into three tentacles. They looked like spirals, not even paper thin, and…
For some scientists primal instincts took over and they haphazardly threw their bodies over the tables to get out of this room with the elegance of a cheap plastic bag in a hurricane. My body’s response was just to shut down completely and freeze in place, leaving me to stare at what that thing was doing.
The triceratops seemed to go about its day, it didn’t mind the thing floating beside it. It didn’t seem to notice the perfectly rectangular chunk missing in its side and the fleshy but still impossibly straight-lined appendages coming from under the white sheet probing its insides.
Whoever was sitting at the computer skipped to the next picture in an attempt to learn what was going on here.
The sheet ghost placed a black orb inside the dinosaurs. I’m inclined to mention that the black orb actually reflected light and was ever so slightly lopsided. We weren’t sure what was going on until we were a couple of pictures further. The black orb grew to something resembling a fetus but it wasn’t possible to tell what the fully grown being was supposed to look like. It died in the triceratops' womb and the ghost wiped it’s traces out of the animal before the missing chunk of the dinosaur was returned out of nowhere. I should mention that all 136 photos were shot in an instant and while the embryo grew to about two months of age as far as I could tell, the whole process happened within the fraction of a millisecond. The ghost hovered next to the dinosaur a little longer than it needed to.
I don’t know who said it. “Do you think it saw us?” That notion was as absurd as my furry idea. We sent no physical object into the past, there should’ve been nothing for the creature to notice. It’s not like we just sent an unmanned camera back in time, that could’ve bumped into the wrong thing as well.
The next picture showed the inside of this room as seen by the screen we were all staring at. The next batch of people to flee the room did so with slow, hesitant steps. It didn’t matter, they were on all subsequent pictures. The ghost appeared in the room with us. Only on the pictures, within another fraction of a second that had already passed.
I don’t know why I watched what happened next. I saw the ghost remove the meat around my abdomen and put another black orb inside me. I held my stomach and it felt in no way different. The embryo grew inside me, longer than it survived in the dinosaur. The ghost waited patiently for it to mature throughout that nanosecond. My face from seconds ago still just stared forward while the baby formed limbs and... I’m not sure if those things were ears or nostrils. There was a tail and my God, were those things eyes? Eventually the ghost carefully removed the baby from my body. It was screaming. The next picture was black with white writing and it simply read “Thank you.” in my mother tongue.
The rest of the pictures were simply black.
I shook my head and left the room. Sheri followed me out.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
I looked exhausted from the adrenaline rush but I showed a confident smile.
“I’ll bring you home, is that alright?”
I nodded. I knew it would be.