Time to Change, conclusion

[With the final installment of the story begun here, I also finally have a title]

“Tell me, Agent Marcel, why have no time jumps into the future been attempted?”

The tall, broad-shouldered woman swallowed. “The technology — ”

” — is the same technology used to jump into the past! We’ve known this for years!” Thorson’s voice reverberated with the strength of a man several decades younger. “What are they telling you cadets during training, that old line about not being able to stabilize the frequency?” She nodded. “But they didn’t tell you a stabilization protocol has already been established, and thoroughly tested.”

Agent Marcel stepped up to the mahogany desk, placed her fingertips on its surface, and leaned towards Thorson. “Someone’s been able to jump into the future?”

The elderly man smirked, shaking his head. “The protocol wasn’t established until after time jumping was banned. The Agency has censored its discovery, even to you chrononauts, because they’ve lost their appetite for further chaos in the time stream. Leaping towards the future, when the Agency is just growing comfortable again with stepping back into the past, is asking too much of that bureaucracy.”

She pointed to the red notebook, which Thorson now held close to his chest. “But by finding this object from the past, and bringing it with me to the present — ” her face registered recognition — “without triggering any of the quantum sensors — ”

“Demonstrates we can place objects into the future, Agent Marcel!” Thorson stood, and in that moment Agent Marcel saw the energy he had seen in him forty-six years ago. “With the success of your mission, we can finally accomplish my real objective — to change the future, not the past. People may look back at history with regret, but when they look ahead, they respond with fear. Think of what can be done, when that fear is eliminated. Instead of storing abundant crops for future use, we can actually push them forward to a time when they can be used; diseases that can’t currently be cured — ”

“This is madness!” Agent Marcel began backing out of the room. “You’re asking for a return to the same chaos that took us years to overcome! The Agency will never approve of your plan.”

“I expect they wouldn’t.” Now that Agent Marcel was a safe distance away, Thorson laid the notebook back on the desk, and sat, folding his hands across this stomach. “Which is why I’m having these pages carbon dated, and why I’ll be broadcasting my discovery to the public. Go ahead and report me to the Agency — once people understand the brilliance of my plan, your superiors will be unable to stop me. You’re only able to control the past, Agency Marcel — the future, is mine to command.”

Without a word, Agent Marcel turned on her heel, and when the protobot hovered over to her she swatted it with the back of her palm. A moment later she was back in her vehicle, driving away from Thorson’s estate and mentally preparing her report to the Commander. She had reached into the past, and brought what she had assumed was a present into today; she would now have to ensure her act did not destroy the safety of the future.

[This concludes “Time to Change.” I’ve always been fascinated by time-travel stories, and this represents an experiment in this genre. What will come of this, only the future knows.]

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Untitled Story, Part 11

“Please, come in Agent Marcel.” The man spoke weakly, his voice as gray as his hair. “And you must forgive me for not rising to meet you — I fell in the bathroom yesterday.”

Agent Marcel walked into the room, and as she approached the mahogany desk, lifted the nylon carrying case resting on her hip. “I believe I have something of yours, Mr. Thorson.” She laid the case on the desk, then unzipped its top. Reaching into the case, she then pulled out a red notebook.

She presented it to her client, who eyed it nervously, like a dog suspicious of an offered treat. “You’re certain this is the notebook?”

Agent Marcel smiled at the thought he was right to be suspicious, considering he hadn’t seen this object in nearly five decades. “Your orders gave me permission to read the notebook’s contents to verify its authenticity. I turned to the last page, then flipped through the prior pages until I found your research notes. You were years ahead of anyone, Mr. Thorson; nobody else could have written these words in 1990.” She laid the notebook on the desk in front of him. “This is your notebook, Mr. Thorson, the one you lost on that November day. All that money you paid to get this back, has resulted in success.”

Thorson leaned over the desk, then with a frail hand turned the cover of the notebook. “Ah!” He pointed to the top of the first page. “There’s a phone number here, for Nathan Gorlick, and I wrote Blackhawks under the number, along with a date in January. We must have gone to a hockey game together.” He turned to the next page. “Not that I remember that game, or Gorlick for that matter.”

“So, can you confirm that this is the object you asked for us to retrieve?”

He looked up, and frowned. “I authorized the release of funds from escrow earlier today, Agent Marcel. After reading your report.”

She looked at him in confusion. “You didn’t wait to confirm I had retrieved the right notebook?”

He leaned back in his chair, and hummed with satisfaction. “Do you really think this was about a silly little notebook?”

Untitled Story, Part 10

[Began this story way back here]

***

February 18, 2036

“Open driver window.” At Agent Marcel’s command, the window to her left glided into the side of her transport. She looked into the security camera and kept her head steady as a sea-green light illuminated her face. The light vanished, and a mechanical voice from the camera welcomed her, as the gate in front of her transport swung open.

The transport rolled lazily along a path of crushed white stone, lined on both sides by trees that blocked all view of the sky. Agent Marcel had visited an estate like this once, to attend the wedding of a friend from college, but had been too caught up in the day’s celebration to contemplate the location. But now, riding comfortably in her transport on the way to a routine appointment, she imagined her client’s landscaping bill was higher than many people’s salaries. She also thought it odd how her client defended Extended Social Security, considering the impact ESS was certainly having on his taxes.

The pebbled path led to a large brick mansion, and the transport eased to a stop in front of the large oaken entry door. A Protobot emerged from its locker, and glided to the transport. “Thank you for coming, Agent Marcel.” She recognized the tone of the bot’s voice; it was identical to Katie, the young woman the agent had seen yesterday, which happened 46 years ago. “Mister Thorson is feeling well today, and is eager to see you in his study.”

The agent let the Protobot lead her into the mansion, through a marbled foyer with the largest chandelier Agent Marcel had ever seen, up a curved staircase so wide she would not have been able to hold both handrails, and into a brightly lit room. Sitting behind a mahogany desk was a man who, when she had seen him yesterday, looked a half-century younger.

Untitled Story, Part 9

[At some point, I’m going to have a title for this story, which began here. But I’m not reaching that point today.]

Agent Marcel grabbed the notebook with both hands, and smiled with satisfaction. This was her third solo jump, and while her first two had been rated Successful since no timeline aberrations were generated, she had not accomplished the primary objective of either mission. The patronizing assurances of her commander (You’re demonstrating how time jumps can be performed in a safe manner — there’s nothing more important you can do for the advancement of chronological research) had done little to comfort her.

Holding this notebook, which had not been seen since this day in November 1990, lost for 46 years — this was proof that time jumps were not only possible, but could meet real objectives.

The agent leapt out of the dumpster, and after placing the notebook into her backpack, closed the lid, and engaged its lock. The stench of the garbage she had been wading in for the past hour still permeated her nose, so she kept to the shadows on the walk back to her hotel. At a few minutes past three in the morning, the building’s lobby was empty, save for the clerk at the reception desk. Agent Marcel waved to her as she passed quickly, relieved that her checkout would be fully processed.

She took the stairs up to the seventh floor, avoiding an uncomfortable conversation — or worse, a recognition — from a potentially shared elevator ride. Entering her room, she undressed immediately and showered, relieved to be free from the stench. She placed the clothes she’d been wearing into a bag, which she stuffed into the backpack, then dressed in the same outfit she had worn at the diner the previous morning. Wearing a business suit might seem odd for this time of the morning, but she had only brought two outfits for this jump; years as a missions assistant had shown her the importance of taking as little as possible.

Fully dressed and packed, Agent Marcel approached the door of her room, and retrieved the device she had used earlier that evening. A few taps on the surface, and a moment later a message — Scan complete. No anachronisms detected. She placed the device in the backpack, and went down to the hotel lobby, announcing she was checking out of room 712.

The clerk took her keys, then turned back towards a panel of shelves on the rear wall. She retrieved papers from the shelf labeled 712, and studied them a moment. “You paid a deposit, in cash?” Agent Marcel nodded, and asked for the balance. “Forty-three eighty seven. How would you like to pay that?”

Agent Marcel had already retrieved a wallet from her backpack. “Cash.”

“Very well.” As she waited, the clerk continued, “You know, they say in the future you won’t be able to pay cash for hotels any more. Credit cards, only.”

“That’s right.” Agent Marcel bit her lower lip. “I mean, yeah, that’s what I heard too.”

Moments later, the agent who would be born a decade later exited the hotel. It was a little after four A.M., and while the sky was no less dark than when it had been two hours earlier, there was more activity on the street. She knew she needed to act quickly.

She walked two blocks south, and located the alley where she had arrived twenty-five hours earlier. She stopped at the curb, as if looking to hail a taxi, and visually scanned the area. A passenger car passed, and turned into a side street; no pedestrians were on the streets; lights illuminated several windows, but she saw no one looking out them. She then hustled back into the alley, and when she was outside the street light beams, turned and ran.

The alley ended in a wooden fence. Agent Marcel retrieved her device from the backpack, and tapped in a command to perform another scan. Human activity detected nearby. She performed a deeper scan, which identified two people working in the adjacent building, which had no window or door to the alley.

It was time.

She secured her backpack, and tapped in the commands for the return jump into her device. With one last visual scan revealing no other immediate presence, she lowered herself to her knees, bowed her head until her chin touched her chest, folded her arms across her body — and pressed the confirmation button.

She fought the vertigo that always struck first, then the nausea rising in her stomach like a humid swamp. Pain stabbed through her closed eyes, and she held herself from yelling — this was not the time to be overheard, for a moment later, as a searing heat shot through her body, Agent Marcel would appear to simply vanish, as if she were nothing more than an image on a television screen that had just been powered off.

Untitled Story, Part 8

The diner closed at 10 that evening, as activity on the street outside diminished, many people having already left for downtown Chicago, others to their homes. An hour later, the streets were mostly quiet; a few hours later, quieter still.

At 2 AM, a solitary figure, face obscured by a hood, walked past the darkened windows of the diner, and continued down the street. Moments later, the same figure walked back, on the opposite sidewalk, this time slowing as it neared the diner, then passing again. Moments later, the same figure returned, this time more stealthily, sticking within the shadows until it reached the alley next to the diner.

It stayed in the alley a long moment, still and breathless, until finally beginning a slow approach to the rear of the building, stopping upon reaching a dumpster, its green paint peeling in the darkness.

The person in the hoodie checked the rear of the building, then reached into a side pant pocket and retrieved an object that no one else in this world would have recognized, because it would not be invented for another three and a half decades.

Slender fingers tapped the surface of the object, which glowed in response. The dim light reflected off the face of the woman Eric had encountered that morning. She tapped the device a few more times, and a message displayed: Scan complete. No activity.

She approached the dumpster, and lifted its black plastic top, only to have it stop suddenly after only an inch, as metal clanked on metal to her left. A padlock; the woman brought her device over to the lock, then tapped on the devices surface a few times. Chambers clicked within the lock; the woman drew the bolt down, and a moment later, she lifted the black top off the dumpster.

It was half full, this being a Thursday and trash collection coming on Mondays. The woman climbed in, forcing herself not to gag at the stench. Once inside, she retrieved her device again, tapping more commands until a message displayed: Object not found.

“Dammit.” The woman thrust the device into her pocket, then looked at the contents of the dumpster. The restaurant used black refuse bags, common for this era, and attempted to seal most. But bags would often become unsealed as they were tossed by staff into the dumpster; crates and cartons would be tossed in as well, often breaking the bags; at times, harried staff would toss unbagged garbage directly into the dumpster.

The woman heard a sound behind her, then felt something brush against her leg. She knew immediately what it was. Despite management’s frequent warnings that the health department would close the diner if procedures weren’t followed, the dumpster lid would be left open for long stretches of the day, and rats would enter freely.

The dumpster, in other words, was a complete mess. Decaying food was everywhere.

Sighing, the woman began sifting through the garbage, checking her device every few minutes. After an hour, she finally found what she was looking for — the red notebook in which Eric, earlier the previous day, had written the current date.

Untitled Story, Part 7

As Eric approached the woman, he sensed her awareness of him, as well as a distinct desire to be left alone. He didn’t take offense at her attitude towards him, but enjoyed the opportunity to annoy her even further.

“Excuse me?” The woman looked up at Eric from her thin glasses. “I think you dropped this on the floor.”

She shook her head, and looked back down at the newspaper lying on the table, her mute response as loud as an abusive dismissal.

Eric smiled, and laid the pen on the table. “Know what? I want you to have this. Yours to keep.” He now saw what looked like fear creep onto her face, as she reluctantly glanced at the thin plastic biro on the table.

He decided he hadn’t had enough fun yet. “You could say thank you.”

She looked up at him with pleading eyes a moment, before relaxing and, with a meek voice, said, “Thank you.”

It was as if her voice had the force of a thunderclap. Eric’s head snapped back, his eyes widening, and he responded reflexively, as if his words were being dictated to him — “I know you.”

For just an instant, anxiety returned to the woman’s face, followed by a polite smile. “No, I don’t think so.”

“This is weird,” Eric pressing a palm on the newspaper in front of the woman. “It’s like, I haven’t seen you before, but for some reason you’re entirely familiar to me. I feel as if I should know who you are.”

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to excuse me.” The woman picked up a purse lying on the bench next to her, then opened it and retrieved a few bills, laying them on the table. “I need to get going.”

Eric followed her with his eyes until she left, then was immediately distracted by Kate’s offer of a lift to campus. Minutes later, he left the diner, and would not realize he was missing his notebook until that evening.

Untitled Story, Part 6

[If you’re stumbling across this title-less story, I invite you to start at the beginning. Or, just pick it up from here.]

Agent Marcel rose from her chair, and as she left the Commander’s office, tapped her slate to message her client.

***

Aided by the two women who had come to her aid, the waitress had gotten onto her feet by the time Eric arrived. He attempted to help clear the debris that had fallen onto the floor, but was quickly dismissed by the restaurant’s manager.

“You sure you’re all right?” The young, brown-haired woman who had asked Eric about his notebook had her arm across the waitress’ shoulders. More embarrassed than hurt, the waitress excused herself, leaving Eric alone with the young woman.

“Well, so much for my excitement for today,” the woman said, extending her hand toward Eric. “It was kind of you to help. Hey, you said you worked at the university?”

“That’s right.” Eric took her hand, touching for the first time the woman he would marry seven months later, and divorce within two years.

“Katie. I’m a senior, in Poli Sci. You work up in North Campus?”

Eric smiled. “Ferold Building.” He began walking with Katie back to his booth, but stopped on feeling something under his feet. He looked down, shuffling his foot aside, and saw a pen lying on the floor. He reached down and picked up the object, showing it to Katie — “This yours?”

Katie shook her head, but took the pen, saying the waitress had probably dropped it after her fall. Eric remained standing at the center of the restaurant as Katie showed the pen to the waitress, who shook her head in response, and pointed off to Eric’s right. He looked in that direction, and saw a woman sitting alone in a booth and reading a newspaper. It was the other woman who had come to the waitress’ aid.

Untitled Story, Part 5

[You didn’t think I gave up on this story? Well if you did, you were almost right.]

“I don’t care how much your client paid,” the Commander continued. “I don’t care about the sincerity of his motives, or your personal feelings about this man. The guidelines of your mission were clear, Agent Marcel, and nothing in your report justifies your actions.”

The Commander sank his middle-aged body back into his chair, and picked up his viewing slate again. Having already read the report, Marcel knew she had an effective parry for the officer’s criticism, but given his agitated state, she realized it was best for him to reach that conclusion on his own.

“Well.” The Commander’s voice had softened, and Marcel felt her body relax. “No disruptions of the time stream have been detected. We’ve positively identified every individual that appeared on your Occuview — most have died already, and those who’ve survived only have a few quiet, inconsequential years left. We’ve also successfully inventoried all the items you took on your leap, and verified you left no traces of your journey. There’s no reason for a cleanup jump. You’re good, Agent Marcel, I’ll give you that. I just want you to realize, you were incredibly lucky as well.”

Agent Marcel forced herself not to smile. “Do I have permission to contact my client?”

The Commander looked back at her, and growled. “Other than for the obvious reason of not further feeding his vanity, I don’t see why not.”

Title to Come, Part 4

[Still not sure what to call this tale I began a little while ago]

Eric glanced over at the source of the noise, and saw the fifty-ish waitress who had served him earlier attempting to rise from the debris of plates, silverware, and food. Coming to her aid was a woman in a business suit, who was soon joined by the young woman who had just asked about Eric’s notebook.

***

The commander shook his head, clearly displeased by Agent Marcel’s report. “Nothing, nothing that happened justified your Injection. You could easily have avoided the entire situation.”

Agent Marcel could no longer hold herself back. “Commander, everyone’s attention in the diner was turned to the waitress. My doing nothing would have been the least conspicuous activity I could have performed.”

“Nobody would have remembered your disinterest.” He placed his hands on the table, and rose slightly from his chair. “But your taking action could have generated any number of possible Temporal Changes. What if a person who would have helped that poor woman, had decided upon seeing you help her, to leave the diner earlier than he’d intended — just in time to be struck by an automobile jumping a curb, leading to his death? And what if that person would have become a doctor, or fire fighter, who would no longer be alive twenty years later to save the life of a person whose impact n history would be felt to this day? You do remember your Temporal Consequences training, agent?”

“Aye, sir.”

“And do you remember at least some of the cases where the seemingly innocent actions of one well-intentioned agent had impacts on the timeline that required one, two, perhaps several additional jumps to undo?”

“But this — ”

“This wasn’t your decision to make, Agent Marcel! The consequences of a timeflux can be catastrophic. We’ve seen what happened when we stopped the 9/11 attacks, or the spread of the Guji Flu — those ‘corrections’ resulted in far worse calamities. Those lessons directly lead to our mission — ” the Commander leaned forward, demanding Agent Marcel’s response.

Title to Come, Part 3

[If you’ve happened upon this story in progress, you’re invited to review the first and second installments as well]

“Excuse me?” Eric was not aware the young feminine voice had addressed him until he felt a presence hovering over his shoulder. He turned, and saw an inquisitive face staring down at him, eyes sparkling behind round lenses. A slender finger pointed at the table — “Are you a writer?”

Eric glanced in the direction of her finger, and seeing she was pointing at his notebook, turned back towards the young woman. “No.”

“Oh!” She reached a hand towards her mouth. “I’m sorry, it just looked like you were writing in a journal.”

Without looking, Eric picked up the notebook with his thumb and index finger, and smirked. “Sorry to disappoint, but it’s a notebook, not a journal. It’s where I keep my notes, and stuff. Work stuff.”

“Yeah.” The spark of interest in her eyes was extinguishing fast, like an engine running out of fuel. “So… where do you work?”

He laid the notebook down, then pointed to the woman’s left, towards the door of the diner. “At the university, for the moment. On a grant, through the end of the semester.” He pursed his lips — “This isn’t the most comfortable position for a conversation. You want to have a seat?”

“Oh no — really.” Eric felt regret as the friendly stranger began walking away from him. “All — ”

The sound of porcelain crashing onto the linoleum floor of the diner interrupted their conversation.