JJ sat at his kitchen table, twirling a sugar spoon in his fingers. The early morning sun poured through the parted curtains, warming his skin. Birds chirped outside in the bushes, the smell of the morning glories on the lattice work wafting through the open window.
JJ's thoughts were turned inward, all of the beauty and grace of his backyard going unnoticed. It was moments like these— quiet, peaceful, not a soul around to break his thoughts— moments like these drew him from his new life, the life he had chosen, and sent him back to a time long ago, or far in the future, a time when the natural wonders of the world were no longer taken for granted.
The tiny kitchen around him dissolved as his mind shot to his past, the earth's future. A time when humans had mastered space travel and set itself to conquering the universe as a whole. The earth was ravaged beyond repair, destroyed by millenia of misuse and abuse. Russia, once cowed by the all-powerful United States of America, waited for the democratic empire to cave in on itself before seizing opportunity. The frozen country set off the nuclear warheads the world had feared, wiping out more than half of the human race, rendering a third of the planet useless. The lower half of Asia was destroyed, along with the ragged remains of North America and much of Europe and Africa. South America remained untouched physically, protected from Russia's hatred as communism expanded rapidly southward.
The utter destruction of the earth caused its few remaining occupants to turn to the powerful leaders of Russian society, ignoring their atrocious crimes in hopes that they would succeed in bringing peace to the world. They would be sorely disappointed. Russia ruled with an iron fist, offering only pain and death to those who did not bow before its will. Money was siphoned from the world's inhabitants to fund the space program, which flourished openly in the new government. Progress was rapid and space exploration doubled, even tripled. New planets were discovered and colonized as the Earth's ability to support humanity failed.
JJ was born during the Earth's final death throes. His mother and father were citizens of Estonia, a small country that was sheltered from the destruction of Europe by the close ties it developed with Russia after the U.S. fell. Activists against the colonization of alien planets, his family fought the Russia government tooth and nail, risking everything to bring an end to its rule. Russia's tolerance for protesters ran thin, however, and they were slaughtered during a rally along the Russia border.
JJ was taken to an overflowing orphanage, where he was taught the fine art of warfare. During his time there, his unique abilities came to the forefront and a Russian military commander insisted he be transferred to a special unit on the planet RF52. This unit was made up of a dozen “talented” youths, as the commander described them. The children were shaped and molded to use their gifts for the greater good of the federation.
JJ developed his talents, shifting time to suit the needs of his squad. He was paired with Leela, a girl who was a year younger than him. Her ability to stop time completely paired with his ability to shift time made them a formidable duo. Together, they took on entire alien squadrons, molding time to allow their teammates the advantage, destroying entire races in mere days.
Love bloomed in their close association and they rode their victory high as far as it would take them. JJ planned his entire future, bought a small ring to fit Leela's tiny, perfect hands. Then the little, happy world he had built for himself was destroyed.
He and Leela were the spearheads of a massive assault on a very resilient race, leading their team against some of the most brutal opponents they had ever seen. The battle raged for hours, and he and Leela became separated. JJ, pinned in a corner far from his team, used a new trick he had been practicing to take out the large group of vile beings pressing in on him. With extreme concentration of will and a large consumption of energy, JJ bent time, wrinkled it, squishing it together to crush those advancing on him between the years. JJ watched as they folded, simply collapsing, crushed by the weight of decades of torment.
JJ, spent, collapsed to his knees, breathing heavily, his vision swimming. He fell to his side and lay there for a long time, staring at the unmoving crumpled forms in front of him. Minutes passed, maybe hours. He lost all track of time. He chuckled inwardly at the irony of a time shifter losing time. Eventually, he regained strength and rose to his feet. Moving unsteadily, he worked his way between the mass of bodies toward where he hoped his compatriots would be.
A flash of color brought his attention to his left. He squinted. There was a orange-red glimmer coming from amid the brown bodies. His stomach dropped as he moved toward the site. Bile crept into his mouth when he realized what he had done. There, among the fallen aliens, lay Leela, her bright red hair gleaming in the fading sunlight. Her body was broken, crumpled like the others in the press of time. Had she been on her way to save him? He would never know.
Leaning down, he slipped the ring off her distorted finger. The metal was bent, mangled like the rest of her. Gripping it tightly, he glanced around him. For the first time, he noticed the beings they were fighting. Humanoid, like him. An alien nearby had a slip of metal on one of his three fingers. JJ's stomach twirled and he vomited near the corpse. He had been slaughtering these creatures for years. And not all of them had been soldiers on the battlefield. He had always thought of them as beasts, inhuman. Looking around him, his eyes were opened. They weren't creatures to be destroyed. They were living, breathing beings who had families, friends, lovers. And he had just taken someone's husband (or wife) forever. He had just taken dozens of children from their parents. He vomited once more, then turned to walk away from the carnage.
By the time his strength was fully restored, he had a plan. He would transport himself back to the past, to a time before Russia ruled, before the United States had fallen. And he would stop the destruction. He would stop Leela's death.
And so he found himself one day sitting on a park bench, Leela's ring in his hand. A nurse walked past him and smiled. She looked much like his mother and he smiled back. She sensed something in him, something special, and came to sit. They talked and he discovered that she was Maria Reddy, healer and transformer (or so she called it). She introduced him to her friends, helped him find the home he now lived in, and adopted him as the son she never had. She asked little of his past life and he did not offer more than was necessary.
JJ raised his eyes to the window, taking in the beauty of his garden. His hand went unconsciously to the bent ring hanging around his neck from a golden chain. A cat twined itself around his legs and he bent down to pet it.
“Hello Leela,” he greeted the feline before getting up to feed her.