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It is 2007 and you’re angry about the mushrooms. My sauce has too many of them, or too few, or maybe I’ve cooked them the wrong way and they got slimy—even right now, the moment after you told me, I honestly don’t remember. So I just stand here, in the tiny galley kitchen in the apartment we can’t afford, relaxing into the hot, familiar comfort of your anger.
Any moment now, you’re going to start to cry, and then I’m going to start to yell, and then you’re going to start to yell, and then everything’s really going to go to shit. But, for now, you’re mad at me again, and that’s all that I want in the world.
I want, more than anything, to tell you that none of this will matter. But that’s not how time travel works. More importantly, that’s not how people work. Even though this is the hundredth time I’ve been here in this moment—more than the hundredth, honestly I’ve probably topped a thousand—even though I want more than anything not to yell at you, I’m going to do exactly that, because it’s still 2007 and I’m still twenty-six and I still somehow haven’t managed to learn that your tears aren’t actually a threat.
Time travel can’t change who I am. It can’t change my choices. It can’t change anything at all. There is no other 2007 I can go to, no other person I can be, no other choices I can make but to stand here in our tiny galley kitchen in the apartment we can’t afford and start a stupid fight about the mushrooms.
I want to tell you that this doesn’t matter, even though that would probably only make things worse. I want to say that this doesn’t matter because I love you, that it doesn’t matter because we’ll just get some takeout that we can’t afford, that it doesn’t matter because we’re going to break up in a year and eventually we’ll learn to communicate and become good friends, but most of all I want to tell you that this does not matter because forty-nine years from now Basal McMurdo is going to hit the greatest home run in baseball history.
It is 2056. I am living alone just outside of Port Orford, Oregon. In the last two decades, I have outgrown my resentment and my self-pity and matured into a chronic and restless loneliness, which I have awkwardly filled, in the tradition of my father, with baseball.
Here’s the first thing you should know about baseball—it isn’t really a sport so much as an eternal, escalating cold war between the batters and the pitchers. Here’s the second thing you should know about baseball—the pitchers were always going to win.
By 2056, the pitchers have won, eternally and forever. No amount of ball-juicing, corked bats, or PED legalization can overcome the basic fact that hitting a 120 mph slider is beyond the biological capacity of a human being. The national pastime has devolved into eighteen-inning no-hitters ending in 0-0 split decision ties. By 2056, baseball is fucking dead, coasting on a handful of tourists and locked-in streaming syndication deals.
It is August 19th, the 2,257th game of another miserable season of no-hitters. Phillies at Mets. Both teams have been mathematically eliminated from the post-season, so the consequences of this game are exactly nothing. Fuck-Dot-Horse™ Park is so empty it’s almost haunted, just a handful of Hejazi tourists who came for the Complete American Experience. There are more players than fans.
I am, as it happens, listening to the game on the radio, by which I mean I’ve plugged a streaming VR headset through a series of half a dozen converters into an obsolete set of Bose™ speakers. It doesn’t actually matter that I’m listening to the game—what happens next will affect the fate of the entire universe—I just wanted you to know that I was.
It is the thirteenth inning, 0-0 as always. The players are wilting under the oppressive August heat, magnified by the reflective chrome of all the empty seats, and the even more oppressive pointlessness of this entire endeavor. After the third baseman passes out from heatstroke, Issa “Marc” Shulman, the Mets manager, calls in a pinch hitter, the team’s newest acquisition: Basal “The Baze” McMurdo.
The Baze is in his late thirties, a heavy man with a heavy mustache, old for a baseball player, particularly these days, when PEDs usually blow out a player’s circulatory system before thirty. He’s also a bona fide star player, the sort of star who doesn’t exist anymore. In his rookie year for the Des Moines Potatoheads™, he led the league with a batting average of .238, which was really fucking impressive in the 2040s. But then the pitching got better, and his hitting got worse, and the PEDs got the best of him and he got relegated. He’s spent the last decade playing AAA ball with the Anchorage Aviators.
Now, though, Basal’s making a come-back. He’s been hitting balls, making runs—in the minors, sure, but it’s still impressive. He’s in the best shape of his life. To any baseball fan, the answer is obvious: he’s been juicing. But this is the 2050s. Everyone is juicing. PEDs, HGH, doping, you name it.
No one knows it except him and his personal physicist, but the Baze is doing something different. The Baze is juicing with space-time.
A few other players have been putting a toe in the water of spatiotemporal manipulation: using a swing or two from their early twenties, or the throwing arm they had as a teenager. Not Baze. He’s been pushing the very limits of general relativity. Baze isn’t just juicing with his own timeline—he’s juicing with every timeline. When the Baze is at bat, he’s got the swagger of Ruth, the swing of Mantle, the power of Bonds, the joie de vivre of Gaedel. And also, you know, every other hitter in baseball history combined.
Kel “Killer” Collum is the Phillies’ eighth reliever. He is famous for his curveball, which regularly clocks at 115, but he also throws a mean change-up that has been the topic of several physics papers, because no one can figure out how he does it.
No one can figure how he does it because he’s cheating. He doesn’t have to. Pitching is godlike now. There hasn’t been a base-hit all season, let alone a run. But he’s cheating anyway, because he’s a fucking pitcher. Pitchers always cheat.
Basal steps up to the plate, taps his bat three times, and sets himself into position. Killer eyes him, up and down. He’s heard of Basal, and he doesn’t like the look of him. His catcher, Takim Williams—retiring this year after a storied, two-decade career, widely considered to be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame—signals for a fastball. Kel shakes him off. A curveball. Another no. There it is: a change-up. Kel nods, and with a click of his jaw activates a radio transmitter embedded in his upper-left back molar.
At the very moment that Killer releases his change-up, his buddies on the Suborbital Supercollider launch an exagram-scale black hole which plows right through the cloud chamber, out of the collider, burning through the atmosphere directly into the path of the pitch, gravitationally deflecting its course up and to the left, just outside of Basal’s strike zone, before vanishing in a flash of Hawking radiation. No evidence except an infinitesimal increase in the local cancer rate. The perfect crime.
Here it is: the last and greatest home run in baseball history. Casey’s at the bat and Babe Ruth calls his shot and it’s Maris’s last game and Barry Bonds is juicing and all of that is nothing, nothing compared to this, this moment. Or, rather, all of that is this moment—because all of that and every other hit combined are the force behind the Baze’s swing, the exact moment of impact, the first damn hit of the whole damn season.
His bat shatters on impact, sending an explosion of wood shrapnel in a cone behind him, instantly liquefying Takim Williams as well as umpire Louis “Louis” Evans—on his first day behind the plate after several years of exemplary service at third base—before showering both dugouts with murderous splinters at a significant fraction of c. Don’t feel too bad for those guys, though. It spares them from what happens next.
The ball seems to hesitate a moment, riding on the gravity waves between the erstwhile black hole and the spatiotemporal constructs that Basal has been injecting between innings. Then, suddenly, the paired field shatters, sending the ball rocketing skyward at relativistic velocities, a harbinger of doom, riding just ahead of a ripple of cracked space-time.
It hits Basal first, then Kel, then the fielders, the Hejazi tourists, all the staff at Fuck-Dot-Horse™ Park. But it’s coming for all of us—a crystallization reaction propagating outward at the speed of light. It hits you, upstate, a thousandth of a second later. It hits me, in Oregon, a hundredth of a second after that.
Call it shattering. Call it crystallization. Call it this: the last moment that will ever exist.
After that, time is broken. Time is perfect. Time will never pass again.
A time crystal is an arrangement of particles whose lowest energy state includes motion. Since this motion is associated with the lowest energy state, there is no way it can convert into heat, light, or anything else. The only things that can happen to a time crystal are the things that already have happened. It’s just the same moments, on repeat, forevermore, without energy, without entropy.
A time crystal, in a lab, is a novelty. But this isn’t just a time crystal. It’s a time crystallization, propagating outward, freezing every moment in its wake, the whole universe (or, at least, a bubble of the universe, expanding at very close to c).
Once upon a time, time flowed like a river, like an inexhaustible spring. Time was something we had so much of, one moment after another. But not anymore. Now all we have, ever since Basal McMurdo hit the last and greatest home run in history, is this: every moment we’ve had already, forever.
I want to explain all this to you, but I can’t. It’s 2007 and I don’t know the first thing about time crystals. No one does. Time crystals won’t even be theorized for another five years, and it’ll be nearly a decade before they’re approximated in a lab, and of course it will be almost fifty years before Basal McMurdo’s record-setting, universe-shattering home run crystallizes all our space and time.
But, also, time travel doesn’t work like that. I can’t explain it because I didn’t explain it to you. To be honest with myself, this is probably a blessing. Because if I could explain it, I would, and that wouldn’t make anything better. You would think, and you wouldn’t be wrong, that I was saying that your feelings didn’t matter.
Also, you do not care about baseball. You do care about mushrooms, although in this instance, as I am once again reminded, you specifically care about them not being in your sauce.
I just want you to understand why I’m here with you, now, for the hundredth or thousandth or ten thousandth time. I want you to understand that I am here because I love you. (At least, I love you now, when it’s 2007 and I am twenty-six and I still haven’t learned how not to yell when I get scared.)
You aren’t here with me, I think. I mean, you are. But I can’t imagine you’ve chosen to experience this moment more than once, the first time. I imagine—though I can’t know for certain, none of us can, but I imagine—that you spend your time in happier moments, with your wife and your house and your kids who all call me “Uncle Andy.”
I go there, too, sometimes. I can’t know for certain that you’re there, of course. But I imagine that you are. I think of it as dropping by to see you, in all those moments after we’ve grown as people and after you got married and after we can actually be in a room together for an afternoon without a fight.
I could be that person as often as I want. I suppose, if I was a better person, I would be.
It’s better than childhood, at least. That’s for sure. Or the long stretch of bitterness and longer stretch of loneliness at the end of my life on the Oregon coast.
So I don’t go there. Instead, I stay here, over and over, in this exact, particular moment:
It is 2007 and I am in our tiny galley kitchen in the apartment we can’t afford and somebody loves me enough to argue about the mushrooms.
Editor: Hebe Stanton
First Reader: Belen Edwards
Copy Editors: Copy Editing Department
Accessibility: Accessibility Editors