Jars of light — of hope — stand stacked in the corner. Jars that once held compotes and chutneys my grandmother had crafted, emptied and washed clean like our memories of the world in which they were created. We filled those empty vessels with starlight, with moonlight. We didn’t know what else to do.
“I’m certain it’s forty-eight.” Liam counts the jars to occupy himself as we hurtle backwards in time. He’s my age, nineteen, but his face is like a slab of granite, pockmarked and still. He never smiles.
Our elders, huddled underground, hatched this plan. They forged a vessel to defy the laws of physics and reason, to put right the moment history turned wrong. They fashioned a time machine from a battered dinghy, collected all the hope they could muster, and distilled it into a shiny liquid. For us to carry back to an era when it still held meaning.
Liam and I were chosen. Old enough to grasp the gravity of our mission, small enough to fit inside the craft. My father cried when I was selected. Whether his tears were from pride or sorrow, I’ll never know.
“I’ll miss this stupid boat once we arrive.” My reedy voice is near-lost beside the rush of reality warping around us.
Liam puts an arm around my shoulder. His thick fingers, warm, squeeze me close.
We never communicated in our before-lives. He associated with a pack of bigger boys, self-selected for their perceived fitness, unlike me, a wiry runt. When our names were called, our eyes met at last and he showed no expression. A dormant sensation fluttered deep in me. Excitement. Not a familiar emotion.
After the selection, we journeyed to the surface, alone, for the collection of light. “You must be scared,” he said. “We’re a team now, so I’ll protect you. I’m scared too.”
He surprised me by taking my hand, and I lost my breath.
“Do you think our mission will work?” he asks now.
“It has to.”
He’s shaking. We’ve huddled together in this cramped space for days, but our crude sensor tells us that we’ll arrive soon. Very soon. I smell his fear, sharp and acrid, and tighten my grip around him.
“Whatever happens,” I tell him, “we have each other.”
The sensor blinks red, faster, then pauses in black.
We brace for impact. Liam’s limbs circle mine, melding us into one being. I don’t think to be frightened or anxious or even uncertain, losing myself in a different, unfamiliar sensation. Safety.
The landing tosses us around our tiny vessel and our cargo smacks my head with a crack. I black out.
I wake to Liam poking me, kneeling by my side. A brilliant light haloes his face and a white mountain rises up behind him. My eyes burn and blink. Brighter still is Liam’s grin when he discovers I’m awake.
“We made it,” he whispers, his gentle voice just a rasp. “We’ve arrived in a place called January.”