LETTER TO J AT THE EVE OF THE HUNT
by Kristine Ong Muslim
I am writing to you as early as now, hoping this letter finds you well, because I might not get to you on time. On February 15, 2028, a two-foot dragonfly was first spotted in the evergreen rainforest of Taman Negara in Malaysia. A little over a month after that, a farmer in the Mekong river delta talked of having seen bees—or maybe wasps—the size of full-grown cats; the farmer had no picture or video to back his claim, but the chances of him crying wolf over something like that was low
It is starting. And you know what’s happening. You are on the right track to do something about it at least a decade before it begins. Reopen your files, pick up where you’ve left off. There’s still time.
You might not get this letter and the printouts I’ve enclosed. Because if you did, I won’t have to be doing this over and over. I also would not be acting this way, having already known what’s going to happen. I left countless other copies of this letter and their accompanying printouts, which is my only way to reach you as I can’t really transport anything heavier than several pieces of paper. The heavier my load, the faster my timer goes and the portal is only active for a maximum period of 33.14 seconds. Digital data gets messed up during transport, too, so sadly I can’t show you any multimedia files that are readable in the computers of your time.
But I will keep trying to reach you when the portal opens again. I will keep leaving all these letters for you, although our paths won’t cross and there is no way you and I will meet in the flesh. And no, I don’t know when you (and I) will die. I can only go backwards in time for 33.14 seconds. The technology won’t allow me to waltz in and “save” my (our!) future self from imminent death.
The technology, the slot generator, was discovered by accident in 2035 and then refined for consumer-grade roll-out three years after that. It is not really time travel in all sense of the word, but merely a way to identify “slots” (that is what the engineers call it) that appear sporadically and can be used as temporary portals into an individual’s past. I don’t understand most of it, but the portals are specific to every person (so buying multiple slot generators won’t do any good), only open for 33.14 seconds, give or take, once or three times a year if one is lucky, and then the user gets conveyed back to the present. The slot generator can’t do much to change the future, which is largely predetermined. Like I can’t go back to save someone from dying or to prevent a disaster; an obstacle will keep me from doing that. But we keep trying. You and I keep trying. Perhaps if you find this letter…
Also: no, no one has figured out how to set up Dyson spheres or anything like that and give the world an infinite source of clean energy. Not much has changed around here, except that for the most part we’ve finally gutted the oil industry and switched to low-emission renewables, mostly solar and wind powered. The secessionists won the civil war in 2031, so now we have the makings of a community, where each member is willing to learn the notes of the earthsong that our ancestors used to sing.
By the way, you should know that Cookie will die of old age, that beautiful brat! I saw her drinking from the toilet bowl the last time I was here. I couldn’t shoo her before my timer ran out. I also caught a glimpse of the boxes of things you took from the family house before the Mercado couple bought it. I saw the open box of stuff that was once in your (our) bedroom. Nostalgia truly is a cocktail served at room temperature, with a delicate and changeable hue that says remember. It is garnished by tell-tale elements of the past, colorized to appeal to our present anxieties about all the things we can’t do and undo.
The future does not hold much, but it holds enough for all of us.
All my best to you my younger self,
Kristine Ong Muslim (she/her) is the author of nine books of fiction and poetry, most recently The Drone Outside (Eibonvale Press, 2017), a short story collection whose German-language edition is forthcoming from WhiteTrain. She co-edited the British Fantasy Award-winning anthology People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction!, as well as Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines and Sigwa: Climate Fiction Anthology from the Philippines. She is also the translator of Filipino authors Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles, Marlon Hacla, and Rogelio Braga.