by Michael Scott Bricker
he creature held The Time Traveler’s lungs as the incisions healed beneath the touch of the thing’s organic machines. Like this being, the Morlocks had been children of technology, but they had been fumbling, unsophisticated monsters, so unlike the graceful soul who shared his company at the end of the world. Curiosity had driven The Time Traveler forward, beyond England and the old wars, beyond the Morlocks and his dear, sweet Weena, beyond that desolate beach with its scuttling crabs, and he found himself here, teetering at the edge of human existence under a dying umber sun. It had been foolish to come so far, but his successes had coloured his judgment, such that he had never considered that the machine might cease to function within the confines of some distant future. This business of traveling within the fourth dimension had gifted The Time Traveler with a godlike power, but with it came the ease associated with omnipotence. In Weena’s world, his intelligence had been supreme. Now, in this alien land of ice and desolation, he was a prisoner, and his time machine lay frozen in the sand, cold and dead as the Earth itself.
He had watched from his machine as the days grew longer, and as the rotation of the planet slowed, complex life vanished in favour of that which suited a dying world. Those monstrous crabs had ruled the beach during the twilight years of Earth, when the fat and feeble sun crept across the sky in century-long arcs, but life feeds upon life, and when that sun could no longer support most of the lingering vegetation, the crabs succumbed, leaving only the dull lichen that clung to rocks along the seashore. Those rocks had grown smooth and mirrored from eons of pounding surf, but eventually even the sea lay still, disturbed only by a rare breeze; the final breaths of Earth against its ice-caked surface. It had snowed here before The Time Traveler moved on for the last time, and those delicate flakes had reminded him of home, and of how, so long before, this dim, dying land, had been the realm of Queen Victoria.
Without widespread vegetation, the oxygen started to go, yet The Time Traveler moved forward again, gasping for air as pinpoint stars blossomed through the eternal twilight above. Even as he adjusted the levers of the time machine, frantically attempting to reverse his journey as his breaths grew dangerously short, he admired the beach, and how a group of ice crystals had grown into towers and arches, like a city of glass; empty, silent, and alone. The Time Traveler wondered if he had lost his reason, but when the machine began to fail, all his thoughts were upon his beautiful monstrosity of glass and steel. The machine had become his child, and although he loathed technology, he realized that he was a product of the machine as surely as the machine had been a product of his own mind. The Morlocks were the offspring of the science harnessed here, by the man who might conceivably have fathered them all.
The Time Traveler climbed from the machine as it took its place in the dying Earth, and he kissed its cold surface, then said goodbye to the friend that had sealed his fate. He first saw the creature, then, scurrying along the beach with insect-like precision, and against the endless dusk, the thing glowed with a weird internal energy. Everything about the creature looked exaggerated, from its long triple jointed limbs to its colourless saucer eyes to the nose that dominated its placid face. It stopped, and they shared a moment of mutual wonderment. The Time Traveler’s memories grew fuzzy after that. There had been the electric touch of its spidery fingers, the cool injections, and those tiny machines, crawling over his body like a cloud of miniature crabs. He knew that his lungs would be insufficient in such a world, and just as he was pondering his death by suffocation, or by the hands of that improbable creature, he watched, numb and motionless, as his glistening lungs were pulled from the cavern of his chest. There had been no blood spilled, no pain; only vague nightmares come alive. Something warm and alive took the place of his lungs, and it crawled within him and nested at the base of his throat, where it offered him life in exchange for the shelter of his ruined body.
He named the creature “George” in honor of the old English kings, and like those men of the primitive world, he reigned supreme, like a god who embodied all living things. When he straightened those jointed limbs, George stood a full three meters tall and resembled a shimmering willow tree. That inner light of his had been more than the glow of life, The Time Traveler learned, and after those tiny mechanical crabs had coated his body with a new rubbery layer of skin, he glowed as well. That new flesh kept him warm even in a world that had been forsaken by an aged sun, and as the Earth plunged into a deeper slumber, the two of them glowed more brightly, and they shared not only a physical warmth, but a warmth of understanding.
The Time Traveler thought of himself as a pet, at first. George had kept him alive, he had no doubt of that, and the creature that had terrified him became his salvation. The yellow pills he swallowed kept him strong and freed him from hunger, and George had fashioned a cave of stone and ice for them with a machine that apparently reorganized matter with sound. Through all this, they communicated with actions rather than words, and The Time Traveler wondered whether George could speak at all, and if there were more of its kind. If this world had been the creature’s kingdom, then his was an empty reign, and perhaps, The Time Traveler imagined, George had been the last intelligent being on Earth until the time machine had provided him with an ancient ancestor. As for The Time Traveler’s own intelligence, he felt humbled by the miracles of George’s science, such that his machine, though dead and powerless, was the only thing that prevented him from feeling, at best, like a glorified ape.
The Eloi and the Morlocks had been products of distant centuries, though in most ways, even the English, with all their arrogance and murderous imperialism, had been more advanced. Eventually, The Time Traveler imagined that the species had dwindled with its ebbing intellectual abilities, leaving only those monstrous crabs on the beach. The Earth had been dying since Weena’s time, and George, being the magnificent creature that it was, seemed like an outsider in this place. The Time Traveler tried to explain his machine to George, and although his language was lost on the creature, his love came across, and George wept, bleeding mercuric tears from the bowls of its eyes. This was a creature of heart as well as intelligence, and when The Time Traveler asked him whether he was the last of his kind, George touched his shoulder, and within that touch passed understanding.
They were two of a kind.
The true meaning of George’s communication lay encased in ice, no more than one hundred meters from where the time machine had died. Those castles of ice along the beach had apparently grown naturally, but George climbed inside, and his lofty frame was dwarfed by spectacular crystal spires. The creature caressed those crystalline structures as The Time Traveler had caressed his machine, and then they shared the warmth of that castle so that the Englishman would know, at last, what George was. This was no structure of ice, but of a soft, cool glass, and it had carried George here, to the end of the Earth.
Although George had originated from an era far in advance of the old warring Earth, the creature had been unable to repair his machine, because the death of the planet signaled the death of machines as well. It had something to do with shifting magnetic fields, George explained through the touch of flesh and glass, and even in one so advanced as this creature, curiosity had been his undoing. They were, indeed, two of a kind, though The Time Traveler still felt the sting of his own inferiority, particularly in the size and depth of his own heart.