I read this as part of The Time Traveller’s Almanac, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.
This was definitely a story of two parts. The first part is about the qhal – who they are or what they look like, really, isn’t given. My mind said ‘humanoid’, if not human. The general gist is that they found a Gate, and that Gate led to others and they’re able to time travel – only going forward in time, mind through the Gates. And then that ALL of them are at the last gate (another end-of-time story) and they’re too scared to go through it.
I had some questions with this. Firstly, if one’s not allowed to go back in time but only forward, one’s never going to know what’s beyond the Gate you’re about to go through, so how do they know it’s the final ever Gate and how do they know there’s nothing beyond it? This is assisted by my second curiosity, and that is that the time-menders cannot discuss their knowledge outside of their circle of time-menders, so they cannot have created the fear of the last time-Gate that is in the general populous. Oh, and anyway, no-one apparently returns from beyond the last time-Gate, I guess this includes time-menders, so perhaps THEY know that it’s a dead end gate.. Still.
This first part of the story is very disjointed, making it quite difficult to sort out what it is I’m meant to be taking in.
The second part of the story focuses on a single qhal, Harrh, and his family. Harrh is a time-mender, an agent who is able to travel back and forward in time. He is looking forward to time with his family, when another agent appears. From there, things unravel.
The second part of the story is more coherent, makes more sense, and flows more easily than the first part. A connection with Harrh was made, one sympathised with his wish to spend time with his family before disappearing again on his travels.
Overall a thought-provoking read, but not easy, initially at least.