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There were three of us left at the bar: Jake, the bartender, the gorgeous blond with the funny clothes and me, yours truly, Barry “The Loser” Leonard. I gave myself the nickname because after a lifetime of screwing up every opportunity, every good thing that came along, that is how I thought of myself.
“Who’s the broad?” I whispered to Jake as he refilled my glass with the cheap bourbon. Jake shrugged and shook his head indicating he had no idea, had never seen her before and wasn’t interested in discussing the matter. Jake could express a lot of information without uttering a single word. It was up to me to find out who she was, so I picked up my drink and my bowl of pretzels and slid over until we were only a single stool away. She watched me make my move. I saw a smile flicker across her face and I took it for an encouraging sign. “Buy you a drink?” I offered. Not my best line but, then again, being clever never got me anywhere either.
“Sure,” she said. I signaled to Jake to refill her glass. My heart sank as he reached for a top shelf bottle. I could see that this encounter was going to cost me and a loser like me was a man of limited resources and diminished prospects. But it was too late to do anything about it. Her ten dollar shot of single malt was already poured. She raised her glass in a silent toast and took a sip. She had pale gray eyes and a long willowy body that screamed high class and out of my league. The one thing that was off about her were her clothes. I’d never see a style like what she wore—a well tailored pants suit with a high collared blouse and what looked like inflatable bands of fabric above her elbows and ankles. It somehow reminded me of a spacesuit. The clothes looked expensive but odd in a way I couldn’t explain.
“So what’s with the outfit?” I asked plunging right in with the stupid questions. I figured I had the right to ask considering I just bought her the most expensive scotch in the place.
“This is the current fashion where I come from,” she responded.
“Oh, and where is that? The space station?”
“No,” she said completely unfazed, “the future.”
It took a few seconds for that to register, but when it did, I said, “You’re kidding, right?” Not my best comeback line but I couldn’t talk to women at the best of times and I could see I was way out of my depth.
“No, it’s the truth. I don’t expect you to believe me but I’m from the year 2624. I was on holiday a few years in the past. It’s routine, a thing we enjoy doing but something went wrong and here I am, stranded six hundred years in the past.
“Six hundred and ten,” I said making a quick calculation in my head. “By stranded you mean they don’t know that you are here?”
“That is correct. No one goes back more than ten years. That’s an absolute rule, the chief protocol. You can’t or don’t go back before time travel was invented or you can screw things up royally.”
I wasn’t sure I believed her but I was definitely sympathetic. I can tell another screw up when I see one and besides, she was the best looking woman I spoken to ever. “How long have you been stranded? Isn’t there anything you can do to get word to them?” I was bursting with questions and they came tumbling out.
I think she was taken aback because she turned and looked at me as if I wasn’t just another jerk trying to pick her up. Of course I was that jerk and I wanted to pick her up more than anything but I was feeling sorry for her. Call it the damsel in distress feeling that can sweep over a man or maybe it was the fourth bourbon kicking in but there was some chemistry going on. “You believe me?” she asked in all seriousness.
“Why would you lie?” was my response. From that point on, she told me everything. Her story was rambling and disjointed but I listened fascinated and pieced it together as best I could.
She had checked in to her travel agent and booked a four day holiday in her past. It was a routine kind of thing, something she had done before.The immediate past was a popular travel destination. Everyone wanted to go back a decade or so and party with their young selves. She said, “it was relaxing to revisit the time when you were a teen ager—the music, the food, the ambiance. Some people found it therapeutic, some thought it was a lark. It wasn’t a rational thing and it was expensive and probably a waste of time but...”
You could visit the past but you weren’t supposed to interact with it. You weren’t supposed to interfere with things, but if you did, it wouldn’t matter all that much as the near past was so overrun with time travelers their presence became the norm. “I’d done it before. It was fun. Only this time I wound up here. Somebody hit a wrong button, I guess, or maybe it was sunspots, I really don’t know.” She didn’t have a very strong grasp of the physics or the rules. She was only a tourist after all, a girl in her mid thirties, frightened, alone and scared.
Travel back for more than a decade was not allowed and strictly off limits. The reasoning was that travel to a past that understood what was happening, a time when travel into the past was common and accepted was fine. It didn’t mess things up. if you went back before time travel was common and accepted, “the pristine past” she called it, you might muck things up, corrupt the time line and find yourself in a real pickle. Time travel itself might not be invented and then you’d never get home. The near past, The past after the invention of time travel was already “polluted” with time travelers and there was little a tourist could do to muck things up that wasn’t already the normal messy blend of past and future. She had met herself once already. It was, according to her, “a hoot”.
It took twenty years of research and testing before time travel became a commercial enterprise. Licenses were granted, businesses created. Several international treaties and strict controls assured that the pre-time travel past remained inviolate. “Maybe there were sunspots or something,” she repeated nervously. “I have to be careful who I talk to and what I do. The whole thing has me on edge. I just want to go home.”
My heart went out to her, really it did. In answer to my questions of whether anyone knew where she was and how long she’d been missing she said, “My family will be worried when I don’t show up. My four day vacation is just about up. I’ve been pushing the recall button ever since I got here but my guess is that I’m so far back in time, the signal isn’t strong enough. I am stuck.” She took a small device from her purse and showed it to me. It wasn’t much bigger than a credit card and about as thick. It had a single red circle on the front. “That’s the recall button,” she explained. “You’re only supposed to push it in an emergency. A lot of good it’s doing me.”
And then I uttered those fateful words, “Is there anything I can do?” I asked.
“You’re very sweet, but it’s doubtful,” Here she sipped her drink and drifted into silence. I thought that would be the end of the encounter and the end of my chances when she turned to me once again and said, “There is something I’d like to try. I’ve been thinking about it. It would require another person’s cooperation. Would you be willing to help?”
“Sure,” I said without any hesitation. “What did you have in mind?”
“It’s an experiment and I’m not certain what will happen. It’s not without an element of risk. I don’t think it’s fair to ask that of a stranger.”
“Look,” I said, “you don’t know me but I’m this close to exiting this life. This close. So don’t think I care very much about risk or sacrifice. Tell me what you need.” She explained how the recall button worked by focusing the body’s own energy field.
“Maybe if we combined our energies, you know pushed the button together maybe then it would have enough strength to reach my time. I don’t know, it’s just a guess.”
“And what if it worked?” I asked. “What would happen?”
“If it worked,” she said putting her hand on mine, “I’m not sure. You might very well wind up in my time. We could both be retrieved. How would you feel about that?”
“A trip out of here? Out of this stupid life? Tell the truth, it sounds like a dream come true.” This got the biggest smile from her. She squeezed my hand and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
We stood up. She wrapped her arm around my waist and I wrapped mine around hers. She held out the recall device in her free hand, looked at each other. She closed her eyes and I took the opportunity to kiss her. She pushed the button and we blinked out of 2015 and blinked into 2624 and here I am, six centuries into the future. There is a lot to absorb.
This world is a radically different place. I am a novelty here, a Neanderthal, a relic from the distant past. For a few minutes I was a celebrity, a hero even. I was sought after for my opinions on contemporary culture. I’m sure I said a lot of stupid things. After a while I faded from the public eye. I was no longer an amusing novelty, the clueless ape-man from the past with the hilarious comments. When the media frenzy calmed down and public attention turned to other things, I had time to relax and take stock of my situation. Now I understand what has happened. Somehow Barry The Loser has followed me across the centuries. The girl I saved has returned to her boyfriend and her life. I am just as alone and friendless in this time as I was in my own.
Fortunately there are still bars in this time. I’m sitting at one now. The bartender reminds me of Jake. He knows what I drink and pours me a shot of the cheap stuff.
Great story! Every story of yours gives me much joy! I like the idea of loser following through time lol .
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