Time is a Construct

A sci-fi time travel take on the ‘stranded on a desert island’ trope and a heartwarming story about finding family in unexpected places. It’s not mentioned, but Lydia is from the 1870s and Alex the 1820s – they’re both from England. The story does not take itself seriously; you have been warned.


She wakes to a low rushing sound, tendrils of fine orange sand waving in her face as if to say hello. She stands up, brushing the really orange dust off her favorite pair of jeans. “Like come on, haven’t I already had enough today?” What with her new boyfriend dumping her for “cheating” – she would never cheat; stupid Roy, stupid misunderstanding – and pushing her into the street, which was really bright for some reason. “Hey, how am I not dead? I’m pretty sure I got run over by a car….” She pats herself to check for injuries, but there are none. “Also, where the heck am I?” She takes a look around this strange new place, but sees no signs of civilization. Not one house or apartment complex or car or even highway, just dusty orange hills, some rocks, and a sparkle off in the distance. “Wait a sec, shiny is good! It could be water, or-or a desert outpost, or maybe a cell tower! Hold on, internet, I’m coming!” 

Running is hard.

Out of breath, she looks up to see that the shiny thing is not, in fact, a cell tower (sad), but a big rusty vehicle. “I must be going crazy, this thing looks a whole lot like a spaceship and definitely not like something I’ve ever seen before,” she mutters. To be fair, it totally is a spaceship, complete with a giant shiny tinted windshield, 50-foot long rusty smushed egg of a body, and no wheels of any kind in sight. 

Suddenly, a brunette woman in an ancient-looking ripped burgundy dress and black boots comes out from behind the ship. “I’m coming for you, Willow! You can’t hide from me!” The woman keeps looking around, skirt hiked up to her knees – peering over rocks, searching the horizon – when their eyes meet. The woman starts towards her.

“Aah, don’t hurt me! I’m not Willow!” She recoils, defenseless.

“Calm yourself, child. I’m not going to hurt you. Oh, or Willow, for that matter.” She smiles. “My name is Lydia, yours?”

“Um, I don’t remember, actually.”

“I thought as much. What would you like to be called, then?” Lydia asks warmly.

“Cameron. Wait, how do I know that?” she responds immediately. Lydia shrugs, grinning slightly, knowingly.

“Does this mean we’re done playing hide and seek now?” A small green child in shiny green and black clothes emerges from behind a rock and walks over to Lydia, looking at her questioningly.

“‘Fraid so, moppet. I’d like you to meet Cameron. She’ll be coming with us – if you would like to, that is,” she turns to Cameron expectantly.

“Sure. It’s not like I can get out of…wherever we are by myself.”

“Wonderful! This way please. Oh, I can’t wait to tell Alex….”

Into the ship.

“Cameron, this is my partner Alexander. Alex, this is Cameron; we found her out on the plain,” Lydia explains, introducing a muscular African man in trousers, a loose white shirt, and a dark brown vest.

“Pleased to meet you,” Alexander says, shaking her hand. “Welcome to our humble home.”

“You live here? On a spaceship?” she asks in disbelief.

“We have to,” Lydia responds.

“The government pulls people from history – who everyone thinks is dead – and transports them to now, to use as soldiers. A handful of people don’t end up in their facility, not sure why,” Willow explains, interjecting.

“So…I am dead,” Cameron concludes.

“Yeah, pretty much,” Willow shrugs.

“Willow!” Lydia snaps quietly.

“How do you know so much?” Cameron inquires, amazed and a bit freaked out.

“I used to run the place. Duh.” they answer bluntly, completely ignoring Lydia.

“But you’re a child!” she yells in disbelief.

Willow responds dryly, “Actually, I’m 103.”

Lydia sighs, clearly over her child’s behavior to their guest. “We’re that handful of people that don’t make it. We have to live like this, on the run, so that they can’t capture us and conscript us into their army,” she continues.

“Okay, so I’m dead, and time travel is real…. What year is it exactly? Obviously it’s not 2001 anymore,” Cameron asks.

“Somewhere around 5010. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a newspaper, though, so give or take about 5 years,” Willow says nonchalantly.

“You still use newspapers?!” Cameron exclaims, as if that is the most groundbreaking news of the day.

“Okay you two, calm down,” Alexander announces, almost condescendingly – fatherly. “Why don’t Lydia and I show Cameron to her room while you get ready for bed. Alright, Willow?”

“Sure, okay,” they answer apathetically, walking off to the left.

“Follow us,” Lydia instructs, gesturing in the opposite direction.

Cameron’s room.

After several turns (right, left, left, right, second door on the left, to be exact), the three arrive at what is to be Cameron’s room.

“Here we are,” Lydia says, standing in the doorway.

The room resembles the rest of the ship spectacularly – walls, floor, and ceiling made of rusty, patchwork metal, dim electric lighting, a creaky sliding door, and the ever-prevalent orange dust. Seriously, that stuff is everywhere. The only difference is the furniture: a stark white mattress on a black metal frame, and pictures absolutely plastering the walls.

“They appeared this morning,” Alexander says gravely.

“What?” Cameron responds instinctively, confused.

“The portraits. We’ve never seen anything like them before, let alone these specific ones. Willow won’t tell us-”

“They’re obviously hiding something,” Lydia interrupts. “I know they know why the photographs appeared, but they won’t tell us.”

Cameron walks over to one of the walls, lifting one of the pictures.

“This is my mom, I-I took this a year ago” she says, stunned. “How did…” she trails off.

Lydia crosses the room to join her. “Listen, moppet, things around here are going to be hard to comprehend for a while. To the best of our knowledge, we’re stuck here.”

“For all we know, it could be an alternate dimension,” Alexander chimes in.

“Good point, I never considered that,” Cameron responds seriously, nodding; a baby conspiracy theorist learning from the master.

Rolling her eyes and sighing, Lydia continues, “In this future, this dimension…things are weird. We don’t age a day. Objects appear out of thin air. Not even Willow knows why these things happen, they’ve said so.”

“I should’ve been dead years ago,” Alexander adds, eyes wide and chuckling.

“The point is, we don’t know exactly how we got here, or how to leave, so we’ve formed a family from what we have,” Lydia explains.

“We’d like you to be a part of it,” Alexander says, serious for once. “Our traveling band of fugitives has to stick together, right?” He continues, reverting back to comedy immediately.

“Right,” Cameron replies enthusiastically.

Lydia adds, “We can talk more in the morning if you’d like.”

“Yeah, that’d be nice. Oh, and can I have some blankets?”

Metal Sky.

Cameron climbs into her bed (now with blankets! so soft…), folds her arms over her chest, and gazes up at the ceiling. For whatever reason, she’s always gone to sleep like how they tell you to go down waterslides, or like a vampire, or a corpse – arms crossed, staring at the sky. It’s weird. Her thoughts drift to the events of the day. If Lydia and Alexander are right, then…she can never go back home. The thought saddens her, but only momentarily. If she was going to be dead anyhow, maybe it’s better that she’s still alive, just somewhere else. Although, is it really worth it if missing her family ends up taking over her life here? How much would – does she miss her family anyway?

“We’ve formed a family from what we have.”

I have a new family now. These people need me, and I need them. To be honest, they’re nicer than my biological family at this point. Maybe this is for the best.

Feeling resolved, hopeful, and contented, Cameron drifts off to sleep, the rusty, dusty metal twinkling like the stars.