This is a fun little two-part story about the choices people make when faced with their fears. It explores time travel just a little bit, something I normally steer well clear of, because, let’s be honest, you’re never going to do it better than Back to the Future. 🙂
‘Come on, Mr Sutton, just five years, please?’
‘Five years, Jimmy, is a very long time. What makes you think I’d be the least bit interested in letting you use my machine?’
Jimmy scratched his shaved head, feeling the scars beneath the stubble, and sniffed. His cold was getting worse. ‘You know I’m good for the funds.’
‘I know nothing of the sort.’
‘I am, I swear it. Just one look. I gotta know.’
‘That’s what they all say. ‘I have to know if it’s going to work.’ ‘I have to see if I win the lottery.’ ‘I have to know if she’s cheating on me.’ Why don’t you just go and ask her?’
‘I can’t do that, you know that.’
‘Why ever not? My wife and I talk about everything.’
Jimmy laughed. It sounded more like a snort, mostly because he tried to catch it on the way out. Mr Sutton’s smooth dark eyebrows rose and he leaned forward until his chin almost touched his desk. ‘Please enlighten me as to what’s so funny?’
‘Just trying to imagine you with a wife. It doesn’t seem likely, that’s all.’
‘I see. About as likely as a woman remaining faithful to you for the next five years, I imagine.’
Jimmy scowled and dug his shoes into the floor. ‘I only need a peek, literally, give me five minutes in the future, that’s all.’
‘That’s all you ever get and you know it. Any more and the walls start to buckle.’
‘But…’ Jimmy tailed off, staring at the polished oak top of Mr Sutton’s desk. It was only the second piece of wood he’d ever seen in his life. The last had been a matchstick grandpa had saved up since before the droughts. He remembered sitting around the kitchen table with his brothers and mum, staring at the matchstick and deciding what to do with it now Grandpa was dead. It could feed them for a month, but the thought of striking it was deeply tempting.
He shook his head, returning to the present. This desk was something else. It was huge and looked to weigh about as much as a Hovee and was worth considerably more. If he could afford a desk like this, Malisa would never cheat on him. But he couldn’t, and she was.
He ducked his head and stared at his feet. He felt his cheeks reddening even though Mr Sutton couldn’t know what was in his head, despite the rumours. He was blushing because he could deal with it if she was cheating, just so long as she stayed with him. How pathetic that made him, he didn’t like to think, but she was the best thing that had ever happened and he couldn’t face life if she buggered off.
Mr Sutton cleared his throat and stared at Jimmy down his unfeasibly long nose. ‘I am sorry, Jimmy, but I must decline. My machine is a highly delicate piece of equipment. I can’t go using it for everyone who promises me money in some distant future.’ He smiled, like the joke was actually funny. ‘Return with cash and we can talk again. Until then…’
He stared pointedly at the door and Jimmy rose slowly from his chair. He turned as he grabbed the handle. He could beg. Sutton had already said no, so what harm was there in trying? He bit his lip and hauled the door open. He wasn’t that bad, not yet. He should mention his service. That had helped before. They saw his scrawny face and narrow shoulders and had him down as street trash. When he told them he led a squad in all three wars, their expressions soon changed.
But Mr Sutton didn’t care. Jimmy knew that without asking.
He tramped down the long corridor to the exit and stepped out onto the street. The door was unmarked and faded into the buildings on either side the moment it closed. Jimmy sniffed and stepped into the street. The howl of horns made him leap back as a Hoved raced past. Four kids clung to the spokes thrusting out from the central platform, laughing as he shook his fist at them.
What the hell were kids that young doing with one of them? They’d been military issue when they were first invented, a quick way for generals to get around the battlefields. Why did everything they have start with the wars?
He looked back at the dark brown doorway and rubbed his nose. Not everything came with the wars. If what he’d been told about Mr Sutton’s machine was true, it came from before the wars and even the droughts! He hoped it was true. Jenna hadn’t actually used it, but a friend of her’s sister’s friend used it and swore it worked. Five minutes at any time in the future or past, to see whatever it was you cared most about.
Jimmy didn’t know how reliable the friend was, but since she’d won the lottery a week later, he reckoned that counted for something. He stomped down the narrow winding road, keeping his eyes on the darkest corners. Most of the shops down here were boarded up and covered in a thin layer of grease. In fact, everything was covered in it. They said on busy days, it rained down here, rain that stuck to your clothes and hair and skin and took a scalding hot shower to get rid of.
He reached his hover and slid into the driver’s seat. The engine rumbled and he shot straight up forty feet into the low lane. The brains engaged and he sat back as the Loop took over, already drumming his fingers against the armrest. That woman had gone forward, found the lottery numbers and changed her life. He was going forward to find out whether his girlfriend was still with him in five years time.
The machine cost fifty creds, which was more money than he’d seen in a year. He wouldn’t have thought twice about it if he hadn’t spotted the condoms in her bag, but that had been enough. She was out making time with someone else and the thought made his guts clench like he’d eaten two week old chickpig.
The buildings rushed past, too fast to see the details, and he let them blur further as his eyes slid closed. He had to get on that machine. He had to.
Work passed in a flash and he headed home, unsure whether to feel triumphant or depressed. He always felt triumphant on the way home, because she was waiting for him. But the joy was absent today. He couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d been up to. Had she seen him again? Was there anyone at all or was it all in his head?
Jimmy snorted as he laid his hand against the pad and his front door hissed open. Of course there was someone. There was no way he could satisfy someone like Malisa.
‘Hey, honey, I’m home.’
The flat said nothing in reply so he wandered into the kitchen. The Screen lit up, telling him the time, when dinner could be ready, and that he had one message.
‘Show me the message.’
Malisa appeared on the screen. She was wearing that tight top again, the one that showed off her fabulous tits. Her full lips curled into the lopsided smile that had his heart racing and she cocked her head to one side. He swallowed and gave his trousers a quick shuffle to ease the sudden tightness.
‘Hey, sweetheart, I’m working late tonight, sorry, I’ll wake you when I get in.’
That was it. No kisses, no explanations as to why. Just ‘I’m working late’. He growled at the Screen and froze it, then threw himself into the sofa. The foot rest slid out, lifting his aching legs and pushing his body back. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. He needed that machine.
He looked around the apartment. He could sell the Screen, it was a pretty nice model. His hover would get twenty creds. With savings, that put him near thirty. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t anywhere near enough. Maybe Sutton would take thirty as a down payment. He groaned. Sutton didn’t want him, with or without the money. The snooty bastard catered to a higher class of clientele than Jimmy.
So he wasn’t going to get in there with money. Maybe there was another way. It wasn’t the right way, but he was well past that now.
He sauntered into the bedroom. Beneath the bed was a box and as he raised the lid, a light sweat sprang up on the back of his neck. The blaster caught the light and gleamed. He hadn’t used this in years.
As he plucked it from the box, a host of memories flashed through his mind. He saw the fields, covered in bones that cracked beneath his boots. He saw the bodies that would soon be bones as the winds stripped them clean. He heard the screams. And he felt the gun kick in his hands, again and again, as his enemies died.
He laid the gun on the bed and pressed his face into the sheet beside it. They weren’t his enemies. They never had been. They’d lied to him, the same way they lied to everyone. He picked up the blaster and stared at it. Malisa was the one good thing in a life used up and spat out by the wars.
He had to know. This was his chance. He could wait a year and scrimp and save and maybe get enough money, but there were no guarantees.
What if they raised the tax again? Last time they’d emptied his bank account, just like that. What if he saved it all and they took it away? He opened the wardrobe and took out his flak vest. Pulling it on felt like stepping back in time. At least on the fields, he’d known what he was doing. Nowadays, he barely knew, not when she wasn’t with him.
He tucked the blaster into the holster and strapped it on, before stepping to the door. Malisa’s face was still on the Screen, frozen in place and five feet high. She was beautiful. She was more than beautiful, but he didn’t have many words left, not the good ones anyway. The war had burnt them away.
The second part will be out Monday 15th December