The email sat there in my inbox, unread. I stared blankly and my mind drifted off to how this whole saga started. Almost a year had passed. It had been a cold January day at my buddy Ethan's house. A typical Friday - shooting the shit, a few cold beers and board games. I think we had six people that day. Four of us were regulars, the other two we had met through a gaming forum.
I can't remember the game we were playing, but the topic of time travel came up. Jessie, one of the two new guys, asked us if we had seen the movie Looper. Through fits and starts the conversation drifted to how someone could prove they were a time traveler. The obvious stuff came out. Predict an unexpected stock price movement, the score of a ball game, the exact finish of a horse race. The typical movie stuff. "But how could you do it immediately?" Jessie prodded. "All of those things require at least day, if not more. What if the fate of the world depended on convincing the person in that moment."
The table went silent for a few turns. Despite the adequate beverage supply, ideas seemed to be few. "Maybe a password?" Jessie ventured. "Are they a hacker or a time traveler?" Liam questioned.
"No - hear me out" Jessie furthered. "You think of a password at the start of the year. You don't write it down anywhere...until the last day of the year. Then you write it down. When the time traveler comes back, they tell you your password for that year. The one that you haven't yet told anyone. Boom, they've proven their authenticity."
"A temporal password" quipped Frank, "I like it. Noah, you're a web developer, you should build us a site where we can all publish our temporal passwords at the end of the year."
I don't know if it was the buzz I had going, or the boredom at work that caused me to uncharacteristically say, "yeah, sure. A temporal password registry. That shouldn't be too hard to code up." I guess I wanted some sort of side project. Work had been getting me down and this gaming group was the extent of my social life.
"Fuck it, I'll make it. Everybody think of your password. The site will be live by next week." It's not like I needed more than a landing page. The site wouldn't need to "do" anything until the end of the year when it would let people publish their password. Until then it would just be a simple page - a manifesto for the registry.
I'm not sure who in our group eventually posted it to social media - but someone did. I remember clearly it was one month later. We were back at Ethan's house. Only the four of us - the other two from that day never came back around. Ethan asked me how the site was doing. I hadn't even thought about it in the subsequent weeks since I created it. "I can check. I did throw some analytics on it." I pulled out my phone and logged in. "Holy shit guys. We just crossed 100k visits."
"Get the fuck outta here Noah." Tyler chimed in. "No, I'm not bullshitting you. Take a look. Which one of you posted it outside our group?" I asked as I passed my phone across the table.
"Shit Noah, this isn't just a spike, this thing has been gaining consistent traffic day by day."
"This pisses me off. I've dreamt about a successful side project for years. Some day allowing me to break free from my corporate chains. And this is what fucking takes off?! What the hell. I can't make money off of this."
"You don't know that Noah, maybe there are some crazies out there who want to sell banner ads for their Deloreans" Ethan cracked.
"You need to put a forum on that page man" Preston started, "I want to see how many crazies claim to get 'contacted'".
"Haha yeah man." Ethan chimed in.
I reluctantly agreed. It wasn't that much extra work. There were pre-packaged forum libraries out there I could easily add to the page.
After that day it became the main topic of conversation at our weekly gaming meet up. How many visitors this week? Did you see which site it got posted on today? Did you see this forum post? On the one hand it was cool to see something I made take off. Not that it was my idea, but it kind of became known as "Noah's site". I became a mini-celebrity in our small group of friends. On the other hand, it had been a few months now. It felt like a tired joke. What was the end goal? I wasn't making any money on this, in fact I was losing $10 a month to host it. I figured in the end it wasn't bad for my resume. At a minimum, it did produce at least one hilarious post per week.
forum-post 134563; user: save-yourself545; June 4, 2022
"SHUT IT DOWN. I was contacted by a time traveler today. Encrypted email. He knew my temporal password. He said to SHUT IT DOWN. You created this monster, only you can save us, REVERSE THIS MESS AND CLOSE THIS SITE NOW."
We laughed as we read these out loud. "Ethan it's your turn".
"Should we really be laughing at these guys. What if this is just furthering the demise of people who were already mentally unstable. You know, people with real mental health problems or disabilities."
"Come on Noah. These are just trolls. It's fucking funny. Probably bored teenagers."
"If they were real it would be even funnier" Preston added.
"You're a dick Preston."
By August we had surpassed 1 million visits. Some rough queries of the forum posts indicated at least 200 unique instances of people claiming they were contacted by a time traveler. The one odd point was that they all stuck to a version of the same story - contact from an encrypted email by way of a throwaway email account, a warning to shut down the site, signed by "TT" which other posters assumed to be short for "Time traveler".
"Dude Noah, someone could teach a master class in human psychology on this thing you created. So many interesting questions? Why is it still gaining traction eight months in? Why are all the 'believers' sticking to the same story? I mean, did you check the IP addresses? Is this just one teenager pranking us with a ton of sock puppet accounts?"
"No man, I've checked and double checked. These are legitimate accounts. All different. I mean, just do a search on Twitter. There are real people, even some pseudo-celebrities who have made the claim now."
"This feels like an episode of Black Mirror or something man. Have we created the next fucking flat earthers group?" Preston asked.
September was when the attacks started coming. I'd dealt with DDOS attacks at work before, but this was different. Sustained. The site would go down for an hour or two almost every day it seemed. At this point it didn't matter though. Copycat sites had sprung up all over the Internet. Anyway, there was nothing to take down on the site. It was just an idea. People didn't need a centralized site to publish their password at the end of the year. They just needed to publish it. They could self-publish if they needed to...although I'm sure the time traveler contacting all these people would have preferred a nice organized list.
October 5th was when it was first covered in the mass media. A front page New York Times article. A Senator had come forward publicly - he had been contacted by a time traveler. His story matched those before him. Was it a campaign ploy? Foreign election interference? Theories and conspiracies ran rampant.
It became too much. I was getting non-stop requests for interviews. News crews came to camp outside my house. I had to change my phone number. I received death threats. The old school kind. In the mailbox, letters cut from various magazines and glued to paper.
The first protests sprung up soon after. A school in Virginia had suspended a child for cyber-bullying. The student created a public list of those kids at the school who had been contacted - including a few who had posted under pseudo anonymous accounts. The suspensions didn't sit well with the "non-believers". In their eyes this silliness had gone on long enough. Why shouldn't those believing in this hoax be named and shamed?
Both sides seemed to dig in deeper but there was something different about this one. It wasn't just in America, it was worldwide. It strangely wasn't political. There were believers and non-believers of all political backgrounds. It couldn't be easily put to rest. It was the cockroach of ideas. The anti-vaxxers, the flat-earthers...that was child's play. Easy to prove or disprove through science and logic. How do you prove someone is lying? How do you prove that really wasn't their password that they had in their head.
As we moved into December the world was becoming more unstable. Sides were taken. People were fired from their job for siding with one faction or the other. Consumers began choosing brands based on which side they were on. What started as a weekend project, a lark to prove to my friends I could for once follow through on something, had become a worldwide nightmare. Police were stationed outside my house 24/7. I needed a security escort to work.
December 20th was the first terrorist attack. Eqypt, 30 dead - a non-believer bombed a hosting company known to serve mirrors of my site for believers. Sadly it wasn't the last. Two more the next day - South Korea and Colorado.
The president of South Africa came out as a believer on the 25th. He declared the country a safe-haven for believers world-wide. Non-believers would be round up and deported. Believers would be free to enter the country and would be granted immediate citizenship - if they could show proof of contact.
It was now New Year's eve. I should have been celebrating with my friends, but here I was - alone, staring at my inbox. 1 unread message.
From: "TT" (firstname.lastname@example.org) Subject: Your temporal password
Was it a prank? A fake? Spam? It had all the markings described in the forum posts. Same subject line. Same throwaway email address format. There was only one way to find out.
I'm sorry I made you a pawn in this. The future is bleak. I've been one of the few lucky ones to escape their grasp. I was able to abscond in their time machine. There is no survival - at least, nothing worth fighting for. Survival is worse. Unfathomable. Us survivors (and there are few) ran the simulations. Not on how to survive, but how to end it. To go back and end it before they come. We are not sure if it will work, but it is worth a shot.
To exterminate the human race was not easy - especially to do it undetected. In the end though, it was simple. I just needed to plant an idea and water it a little.
I wish I had better news, but do know this is for the best.
PS Your temporal password is: second-stage-turbine