There is a quiet whirring, then a small pop, several sparks fly, and finally, silence. The scientist stands back, face smeared with smudges of grease and she holds her breath. She stares at the clock. 10 seconds. Nothing happens. 20 more seconds pass by, and still nothing.
30 seconds. A sense of dismay starts to settle in. A minute passes and the scientist is finally ready to give up. As she turns back to her whiteboard, mind whizzing with calculations, seeking out and resolving errors at lightning speed, a faint hissing is heard. Her heart contracts in her chest. Slowly, as if this were a dream and as if a single move made out of place would cause it all to shatter, she walks back to her contraption and peers inside. And as she does, she lets out a breath she did not know she was holding because finally -- finally! -- She had done the impossible.
For a while, she does nothing but sit and stare vacantly at her invention, this extraordinary thing that defies the laws of physics, this work of pure miracle, that she has made. After hundreds upon hundreds of attempts and failures and insults and whispers, she has finally proved them all wrong, because standing here, in her unremarkable basement, in this unremarkable town, is an incredibly remarkable woman and her even more remarkable time machine.
A hundred emotions flicker in her tearful eyes: disbelief, pride, satisfaction, and pure happiness. But she feels oddly empty, too. Years spent on this. Some would claim years wasted. And now she has nothing left to do. It hits her, then, that she hadn't yet used it. How could she claim she had nothing to do, when she had only just opened up whole worlds of possibility?
She rubs a hand over her tired eyes, wiping any unshed tears away. She knows she will cry later, but not yet. Not when her curiosity is becoming insatiable. Her thoughts scream at her: Ancient Greece! The moon landing! Or maybe her fourteenth birthday party? Perhaps she'd travel to the future? A smile forces its way onto her face; she truly has come further than anyone before her. But, as any respectable scientist would, she restrains her excitement. Things could still go terribly wrong. There is only one way to find out.
After another uncertain glance at her whiteboard, she stands and enters the time machine. It's small, homey, one could say, but practical. There are no windows, just a control panel and a seat. She sits carefully, wincing, half expecting everything to fall apart. A second passes before she pulls up the holographic screens tentatively.
Lines of code blink back at her, everything in perfect order: faultless. She sets her jaw and starts typing with clear intent, fingers darting over the keyboard. A search box appears in front of her asking for a date. She leans back hesitantly to look at her whiteboard again.
Where to? She corrects herself in her head almost giddily: When to? She tosses possible destinations around her mind and her eyes light up suddenly. She thinks for a while. If she were being rational, her idea isn't plausible at all. However, while sitting in a machine such as this, one tends to ignore rationality and plausibility. She shakes her hands out before pressing a single key.
The cursor blinks as the number shows on the screen, bright white on pale blue: "0". She looks at it anxiously, doubts flooding her mind. But she can't afford to be uncertain now. Not when she's so close. The Big Bang! Who wouldn't give an arm and a leg to see the beginning of the universe with own eyes? She would regret not doing it, which is why she takes a shaky breath, reaches out and hits enter.
She grips her seat, and screws her eyes shut and waits, and waits and nothing happens.
Her shoulders slump and a sigh escapes her, and whether it's of disappointment or relief, she can't quite tell. It was an absurd idea, anyway. The Big Bang? How would she observe it from the machine? Would she arrive as it was happening or before? In fact, how would she arrive before? There would be nothing to arrive to! There are too many uncontrollable variables and it was childish of her.
She wills herself to stay composed before she starts to spiral. A failed attempt simply means more data to examine and errors to fix. She has done it before and she will do it again. Still. This time was supposed to be different. She shakes her head and swallows hard. There's no point saying things like that when she has a machine to fix. The chair shakes as she stands and makes her way to the door.
She opens the door to step back out into her basement and try it all again. Except she doesn't. Her foot lands on nothing and she scrambles backwards, tripping over herself. She regains her balance and stands deadly still, and peers out again.
There's nothing there. It's just… empty, although that doesn't quite describe it correctly either. By instinct she clamps her mouth shut, holding her breath. Then she narrows her brows. She's been breathing fine all this time, and if there were no oxygen she'd be dead by now. So, wearily, she takes a breath, and another, until her hysteria subsides and her breathing is steady.
She then pushes her emotion to one side; she is still a scientist, after all, and this is still an experiment. She squints at the darkness, just to see something, a speck of light, perhaps. Something to ground her. Where on earth could she be? She thinks for a moment, and turns back to look at her screens. She thinks a little longer, her mind skirts around the conclusion that she knows is true, but she waits for a catch something to scold her, like a slap, like every little insult thrown in her face over the years. But there aren't any. She's at the beginning. Before the beginning, even! She has well and truly proved them all wrong. Her heart swells with pride and a smug grin is plastered onto her face. She walks back to the door and sighs.
As she looks out in awe, in shock, a loud beeping fills her ears. She turns and scans the screens for an alert or warning. The large, red text on the screen reads "COMBUSTION IMMINENT: 200 SECONDS". Her eyes widen in horror and she returns to the screens and starts typing frantically. She can't let the time machine explode. It's powered by the same levels of energy as a supernova and an explosion this powerful would wipe out the universe, most likely. An explosion, the likes of which has not been experienced since… since, well, the Big Bang itself.
Her fingers halt and hover above her keyboard. The realisation dawns on her slowly, and as it does, an odd sense of calmness settles in her mind. She starts to laugh, quietly and tears start to slip down her cheeks. She makes no move to wipe them away. Instead, she turns, and walks back to the door, and sits. She sits with her legs dangling into the nothingness. She sits, knowing that all of time and space is waiting to happen. She sits, knowing that she is the cause of the event that she has come to witness. She sits, knowing that every single thing the cosmos will ever be, is her fault. And she smiles.
Her cheeks wet, and the beeping behind her growing louder, she smiles out into the darkness. With her final breath, she whispers, "Let there be light."
And there is.
The writer is a school student in the UK