by Brandon Grew

Nearly five hundred light years away from Earth is a cloud of gas and dust called the Rho Ophiuchi Complex. It floats under the constellation Serpentarius, the Snake-Holder, and glows like a vague rainbow through the dark materials it veils itself behind. This nebula is a modest one, a private one; two great cloud bodies have embraced in such a passion that their ecstasy has lit them aflame, and their constant love making propagates within them countless blazes, which they will deliver as new stars into the wild and silent universe.

Reaching this distant region of space will be difficult, but necessary in the process of time travel. Yes, time travel is possible; the key lies with light and its formidable velocity. Special relativity understands time’s inability to keep pace with light; essentially, an object or person nearing light speed will age exponentially slower than a grounded object; the very fabric of space and time, to which our own threads are so tightly plaited, stretches and folds, like bed linens that have become tumbled in the night.

The time traveler is euphoric, has left behind his old life. Before him, in the vast distance, glows the promise of something wondrous, a thrilling mystery toward which he is compelled. He recalls this feeling from a night spent out with friends, catching the kind eyes of a handsome stranger from across the table, a prolonged stare, a smile; the rush of whispers in bed, of caresses in the dark, echo with him now. He is hurling toward something marvelous and consuming, something heart wrenching, something on fire.

Around the time traveler is a sufficient technology, a force indistinguishable from magic, which propels him at such marvelous speed away from Earth, ferrying him across the blithe distance toward that ultimate union. It glows brightly now before him: a green flush deep within the nebula pulses tenderly through a netting of crimson light strands. The shuddering heart churns golden filaments and wisps, extends them into the interstellar wind, reaching. This is ardor, he thinks in awe, this is love.

The craft slows in preparation for the return to Earth. Outside the windows, a brilliant gas rain bends from the nebula around him, spilling smoke over the windows like champagne; a bottle shared by two on a ledge above the city, the glimmer of cars and street lights like the stars now outside. He is enveloped within the intimacies of this cosmic interlude, and Rho Ophiuchi embraces him, loves him, trusts him with its secrets; he does not want to leave, does not want to say goodnight.

But a blast from within the burning core disrupts this confidence, and the craft, now reversed, speeds from the rapture storm. He is torn away, and in that vast loneliness the time traveler, hurt by this abandonment, remembers the days; he has aged five years on this venture and will age five more before returning to an Earth that will have aged one thousand. Behind, Rho Ophiuchi reaches faintly with dimming arms, veiling itself again behind a dark shroud of indifference. It’s ended.

The time traveler is forlorn. The stars are distant out his window, Earth not yet on the black horizon. He recalls the life he left, considers what awaits him now. Everything will have changed, he thinks, friends and family dead and forgotten, landmarks eroded and reshaped, cities destroyed and rebuilt or perhaps never rebuilt. On his journey, in his bliss, he did not take notice of time or its passing, did not consider the impatient world he’d left behind. He will return as a messenger from a distant past, one who has taken a mighty voyage, one who will have to carry on from where he lifted off.

Brandon Grew has a BA in English, with an emphasis in writing, from Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, where he continues to live and work.