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In Defense of the End of the World

Leah Cypess is the author of four fantasy novels published by HarperCollins: Mistwood, Nightspell, Death Sworn, and Death Marked. She has also written numerous short stories, some of which are included in her collection, Changelings & Other Stories. You can find out more about her and her writing at leahcypress.com.
Many call me a visionary genius. To some of you, that is a good thing.
Others deem me a reckless madwoman. To some of you, that is a bad thing.
The truth is, I am just someone who cares.
I believe--I have always believed--that most people care. But we've been trained, over centuries, to limit our caring to those who share our small segment of the space-time continuum.
As a quantum physicist, I never had that luxury. I know that time exists only in our perception, that--to quote a popular if inexact phrase--everything is happening simultaneously.
And ever since my much-reported discovery five years ago--often described, also inexactly, as a "time machine"--I could no longer pretend there was nothing I could do about all that pain.
If you can stop people from suffering, and you don't--because you've always been told it's impossible, because of theoretical fears regarding the "integrity of the space-time continuum" (not to become a broken record, but that's also an inexact phrase), or because you've attended one too many seminars on chronological imperialism--what does that make you?
My colleague, Dr. Sirnoff, would have you believe it makes you smart. His op-ed, published here last month, argues that any action we take in the past merely splits the timeline. According to him, everything I've gone back in time to prevent is still happening--it's just happening somewhere else, in another dimension.
Despite Dr. Sirnoff's confidence, his theory is no more provable or unprovable than any other theory about time travel. It's gained popular traction because it's a very convenient theory. If nothing you do matters, then you're not required to do anything at all, are you? At least, not if you have tenure.
I cannot accept Dr. Sirnoff's acceptance of suffering on such a massive scale. I cannot acquiesce to the othering of people of the past, the barely veiled assumption that their suffering matters less than ours. I cannot turn my face away, just because there is a risk that intervention will cost us our own privileged lifestyles.
Make no mistake about it: I fully understood the problem. If even minor changes in the past can create paradoxes, then major changes--the kinds that could save millions from heartache and destruction--would inevitably create them. And though I ran calculations for months, there was no way to predict whether our reality could handle those paradoxes.
I chose to take that risk, and I will not apologize for it. Even if current predictions turn out to be correct, if space-time is unraveling at its edges, if we have at most a few months before those edges reach us--and that is far from certain (editor's note: this essay was published before the results of the wormhole camera were fully analyzed)--I understand something most people do not: that the weight of suffering in the universe far outweighs the amount of happiness it contains. The fact that we are ensconced in a small segment of space-time where that is not true (or where we perceive it to be untrue), does not change the reality that surrounds us.
I understand why you would prefer not to think about this. Your life is pleasant. You enjoy your morning coffee. Your children are healthy. No one who wants you dead has a realistic chance of accomplishing their goal. Sometimes, when the weather is nice, you go for a walk and the sun warms your skin. You enjoy your life. You prefer not to endanger your existence.
But your life, the moments you feel yourself living through, are not all there is. The past is not gone. The future is already happening. This, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt. Every moment did exist and does exist and will exist forever.
Your life is an aberration, in a universe filled with suffering.
So I ask you: Can you honestly say the risk I took wasn't worth it? Is the safety of your brief, transitory happiness worth the pain that came before, and will, inevitably, come after? That is all around us, right now, if only you could see it?
I am posing that question to you now, as I posed it to myself years ago. I answered it as best I could.
I can only hope that most of you, if you knew what I know, would answer the same way.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

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