Andromeda coughed, then cursed. She pulled the worn cloth she kept around her neck over her mouth and nose, and only then did she dare to breathe. Narrowing her eyes against the smoggy air, she trudged toward the tent she called home. When she reached it, she gripped the edge of the fabric and allowed herself one last glance at the landscape.
Around her, the ruined skeletons of buildings stood, watching over her like ruined guardian angels. Tents lay around her, housing the remainders of humanity. Jonathan had once called this area Boston, whatever that was. With a sigh, she went inside.
There were few items inside. An ancient relic Jonathan called a television stood to one side, showing an old movie from fifty years ago, before the war. At her feet, a fan blew cool air gently. Everything in the tent ran on batteries Jonathan himself had made. The man was a brilliant inventor, especially when it came to stolen alien tech. He always scavenged the alien weapons, making new gadgets and new weapons. At the very least, the Non-terrestrials had given humanity one good thing since the war started. Andromeda’s own homemade laser gun hung at her hip—for emergencies only, of course.
A pile of rags moved, exposing a wrinkled pallid face beneath. Andromeda knelt down and poked him. “Jonathan,” she whispered. The only response she received was one of shaky breathes. “Jonathan,” she said louder.
The man slowly and almost painfully rose to a sitting position. He looked at her through the wrinkles of his face with sparkling, brilliant blue eyes.
“What?” he asked.
“I found some more food,” she said, holding out a pile of vegetables, a rare and excellent find. She grinned as she held them out to him. “What do you think?”
“Good, good,” Jonathan said with a nod and a cough. His head shook as he did so. Andromeda frowned, worry knocking at her mind. He didn’t have much time left.
Instead of bringing up his health, she turned toward the television. On it, animated figures fought with old guns that fired bullets instead of lasers. Jonathan had said the aliens came from the sky when he was young. Humanity feared them, so we fired first, he had said. That was the start of it. She sighed. Now if only someone could fix this mess.
“You know, it is possible.”
Andromeda jolted out of her thoughts. “What?”
“Listen.” He coughed again, then pulled something out of the blankets. It looked like it was nothing special. A watch maybe? He held it out, and she took it in her hands. It consisted of a small screen with dials on the side connected to a strap. “You’re familiar with the Non-terrestrials technology: time warping?”
“Of course. But Jonathan, no one’s been able to figure out—”
Her eyes widened, and her pulse pounded in her ears. “You finished it.” Over the past few weeks, he’d been talking of a special project, his final project. She’d had no idea what it was. “You made a time-warping device?” Suddenly the object in her hands seemed ten times more significant, and she held it reverently.
She gasped out a laugh. “Jonathan, you know what this means? We could go back in time, change things… make it so the war never happened—”
“Someone’s trying to take it from me.”
She stopped. “What?” she whispered. Meanwhile, a smell leaked into the tent from outside. What was it? Smoke?
Jonathan must have noticed the smell, too. He bowed his head. “They are already here, then.”
“Oh, hush. Someone’s just—” She peeked outside,and gasped. The other tents all burned, orange and red flames licking at the fabric, black smoke reaching toward the sky. Another smell invaded her nostrils then. Burning flesh. “Oh, god.” She ducked back inside.