I had just been selected to be to a member of the Regional Council for our stellar system. I was ushered into the Great Assembly Hall, a gigantic domed building located at the dead center of the regional capital. A dozen of us sat on the Central Platform surrounded by a million empty seats.

As a brand new member, I was required to ask the Council ten questions. Since new members could address the Council and cast votes on pending issues, they wanted them to have informed opinions. I was extremely nervous and wanted desperately to impress my peers and show them that I was worthy of this great honor.

The first thing I asked the Council members was, “So how many people in the universe have free will?”

Dakoda replied, “According to the General Council there are but a dozen of us in this galaxy.”

Dakoda A885-41 was a smart and attractive astrophysicist and Marsologist and an accomplished phorminx player.

I asked her, “And anyone of you could use your free will to do something different than you have always done under the exact same conditions?”

“We could but, when faced with the exact same decision, we have the exact same motivation. So we always do everything exactly as we have always done. But if one of us ever deviated then the Time Circle would be broken and a linear timeline would begin. Novelty would flourish and new beings would come into existence. Though we’d still die as always, we also would then cease to exist forevermore.”

The enigma of time was whether it was finite or infinite. If finite then we could always think about the day before the beginning of time. But, if infinite then it would have taken an infinite amount of time to get to yesterday so today would never have happened.

The mystery was finally solved by Ballard D375-90 at the end of the Century of Innovation in 2198. According to him, time isn’t linear or even cyclical, it doesn’t flow or repeat. Instead, it’s circular and the exact same events are always happening. Time is neither finite nor infinite.

Ballard said that we are all trapped in an eternal now. Our brains at any given now are so configured that we have memories embedded in them concerning other nows. However, any particular brain at any specific now never really experienced any of those other events which we believe happened in our past.

There really wasn’t any past, even though we still refer to our remembrances as if they related to past events. Though not everyone accepts Ballardianism, I definitely do.

And it was only in the previous year that neurologists discovered that some rare individuals actually possessed free will. Everyone was immediately ordered to get a brain scan and I tested normal.

I then asked the Regional Council members if any of them knew the General Council’s view concerning this disturbing situation.

Dakoda said that most members of the General Council weren’t unduly concerned about it. However, she noted that a few of them were afraid that some whimsical individual with free will might deviate from the prevailing order. Breaking the Time Circle would put an end to our peculiar kind of immortality.

I only did what I had to do. Then and there I walked over to Dakoda and put my fingers around her throat. I brutally strangled her right in front of the other ten Regional Council members. I must have always done that, always had to do that. None of them lifted a finger to stop me. They must have always done nothing, always had to do nothing.

But now I will always have to see that young and pretty face contorted in a grim look of utter shock and sheer horror forevermore.

Don Nigroni received a BS in economics from Saint Joseph's University and a MA in philosophy from Notre Dame. He retired after working for 32 years as an economist with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. He now spends his time cutting invasive plants as a volunteer Weed Warrior at the Heinz National Wildlife Refuge and writing articles for Phactum, the newsletter of the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking. He also enjoys hiking, kayaking, bird watching and metal detecting for buried treasure.