She picked at the raw earth with gloved hands, turned over the seed in her hands. This one was charred, sterile. Lifeless.

The next seed was purplish, ringed with the characteristic spots of sulfide poisoning. A powerful toxin. Not that there was anything living left to poison.

Soot and ash flew up into the air, a fine particulate dust polluting the air. She only had about 3 weeks worth of oxygen left — every stray pollutant, every contaminant would subtract minutes or hours from that total. Life in the dome was short and fleeting.

Seeds suck nutrients from the earth surrounding them, leaving a slight depression in the soil. They’re easy to find, if you know how to look. She saw another characteristic dent in the earth, poked a gloved hand in carefully. Here was another seed, only a slight glimmer of green distinguishing it from its dead cousins. This seed, she thought with a start, was alive.

She gingerly pulled the seed out of the ground. As she walked back into the cabin, seed in hand, she thought of tipping points.

She’d studied dynamical systems back in university, when it was already too late. They’d analyzed double pendulums, planetary orbits, seasonal crop cycles. Everywhere the same pattern emerged; small changes in the state of a system can have huge, unpredictable results. And eventually there’s always a tipping point, a point of no return, a point where conditions have changed so fundamentally that things can never be the same.

They didn’t know it then, but 2012 would be the tipping point for life on Earth.

The statisticians and climatologists had predicted that we had until at least 2030 before the negative effects of pumping our atmosphere full of CO2 would show. But they didn’t understand that statistics is really just pretty lies. Uncertainty is smoothed over, random fluctuations are ignored, data forced to fit models that are idealized and imprecise.

Turns out that staying at 4 degrees above standard temperatures for a prolonged amount of time causes the protease enzyme in plants to denature. No one could have predicted that. No one wanted to predict that.

She knew now, in the twilight of a dying world, that nothing could be done. The survivors were all like her — starving, parched, holed in climate-controlled domes scattered across the earth. Leaving the safe confines of the dome would be death. Staying inside would be death, just by slower means — starvation or dehydration instead of asphyxiation.

The cold laws of physics themselves dictated an end to it all. Tiferet, the Hebrews called it — time’s arrow. The great form-destroying process of entropy. Vases shatter, civilizations die, atoms smash into one another ever more rapidly. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. It would be impossible to restore the earth, de-acidify the oceans, and reform the shattered elements of civilization, even if there was anybody left to try.

She had wanted to be a writer once, back in grade school. But she’d ended up going into engineering like her parents wanted her to.

Sitting at her bare minimalist desk, looking at the seed, an idea struck her. Snippets of phrases, flashes of insight.

They call him Yeoman.

A way to go back in time. A way to make things turn out right.

Warlord, conqueror, farmer.

What if someone was willing to do whatever it took? What if, back in 2012, someone did the ugly things that had to be done to stop civilization from going down the tubes? 

The sickle is mightier than the sword.

The person she had in mind wasn’t a diplomat, or a millionaire, or a president. He was an regular person, fed up with the status quo, used to getting the short end of the stick. 

She took out a pen and a piece of paper, and began to write: “Neil P. Letty was an ordinary man; ordinary in every way but one.”

She was an old woman anyway, waiting for an absolution that would never come. At least it was a way to pass the time.