As I climb into the time machine, its metal frame shivers against the storm raging outside. I should wait for the storm to calm before attempting to time travel, but I was on an urgent mission to study humans of a primitive world. Besides, why waste time when I can simply zip through it? Buckling myself into the seat, I set the dial for the past and waited for the time machine to calibrate. It settles into a familiar hum, and I can feel the heat generating all around me. The keyboard lights all at once, signaling that it’s ready to go. Just as I pull the throttle, I hear lightning split the air as a current of electricity surges across my body. And all I see is blackness as my body tumbles against the torrents of time and space.
When I wake up, every part of me aches. The time machine boasts no life, only burn marks across the now broken dashboard; residual exhaust clings to the air. With heavy lungs, I emerge from the time machine’s smoking carcass to see a different world. The sky is clear and the sun is just about to rise. A bit further from where I crashed, I can see large structures and a plume of smoke. A civilization! By the time I entered the city, the people have started to wake up and mill about the streets. While each person possessed unique body traits, I am surprised to see such striking similarities in our anatomies. My eyes, nose, mouth… I can see myself in every person as I can see themselves in me.
How we wore our bodies, however, greatly differed. From the way they decorated their flesh, I could recognize that this was a culture that idealized aesthetics. Some wore colorful metals from their ears; some painted their skin. Many women of this time even wore painful cases that pinched their feet. Many men hid their balding scalp underneath a hair-rug attached to the tops their heads. The natural body is not enough, and the cost of manipulating aesthetics is thought to be cheaper than the cost of leaving it be.
A few months in, I attempted social interaction. The way a person physically and verbally communicates is a significant indicator of their social status, which speaks volumes about the class inequality inherent to their society. Right away, people are assigned to categories based on anywhere from wealth and nativity to the most trivial concerns of skin color and weight. In many parts of the civilization, these categorical differences are sometimes used to hurt each other. Everyday, innocent people are persecuted for being different. Two people in love who happen to be of the same sex are denied a marriage. Dark skin is not beautiful by convention. Instead of men and women sharing the world, power is patriarchal.
Everywhere I go, I see the value of a life dictated by something else or someone else. In a society that believes it to be so advanced, many people are savagely backward. Hatred still charges the world, and selfishness makes thieves of all. Honesty is a rarity; it seems like the fragile fabric of civility is predicated on convenient and “kind” lies.
But someway or another, good exists in the world. I’ve seen it on the streets, where people with more will give to those with less; I’ve seen it in families and friendships, where people love one another for the sake of loving one another; I’ve seen it in the hearts of heroes, who risk their lives for strangers. I’ve seen it and I believe it. I decided to give this world a second chance.
I realized after a while that I had no way of returning home. The lightning fried the time machine’s circuit board, and the inter-dimensional engine—which had broken in two from the crash—was unsalvageable. I was stuck. The technology of this world was too rudimentary to repair the machine, so I had no choice but to wait. A few years passed by, it is now 2012.
I’m still waiting.