Day 297: The Future of Present and Past

Being the first one of the research group to get to travel to the future made Harvey Alvarez pretty happy, considering the fiascos of his last few missions to the past. He’d messed up the simple destruction of a pie to change a contest result, and he didn’t want to think about his failed attempt to get his girlfriend back from Dr. Glenn.

He wasn’t alone in his failures, though. It turned out that time travel was a very tricky business. Having failed to demonstrate that the past timeline could be changed, the team took on a new approach. Now that the inventor, Ron Barth, had calibrated the time syncs to extrapolate to the future, they were going to try to change the timeline of an upcoming event.

His buddy Jeff interned at the Medical Center across the street, where they lunched together in the cafe. Jeff forked several layers of lettuce, capped with a tomato chunk. “I don’t get it. Anybody can change the future.” He stuffed the fork in his mouth.

“We don’t know that. Anyone can affect the future, but that’s because from our point in time it hasn’t been witnessed. There’s going to be a karaoke contest at Apple Orchard Mall on Thursday, and I’m traveling ahead to find out who won so we can prevent it from happening. We’re not just going to influence an uncertain future—we’re going to see if we can change an observed future with every resource we have.”

“Yay.” Jeff frowned and pushed the half-eaten salad away. “You’re rigging a mall contest. One great leap for science.”

Harvey didn’t let Jeff discourage him. The day of the trip he went through the usual rigmarole for preparation. It was a lot more lax than going back in time because they didn’t have to worry about anachronisms, but all he took with him was a pad and pen.

The trip turned out to be a lot gentler than going back in time, minimal vertigo.

He had a twenty minute walk in front of him to get from the secret time-destination room in the science building to the mall, but that would give him plenty of time before the contest concluded.

Traffic was light and the mall parking lots were packed by the main entrances, but otherwise sparse. Harvey zigzagged through the halls until he found the open event area, karaoke in progress, a small Indian girl singing ‘Thriller.’

The singing was mostly atrocious, but Harvey busied himself looking in the jewelry store for something his girlfriend might like.

“Ah,” said the clerk, a guy in his fifties, suit and tie. “You’re back.”

“I am?” asked Harvey.

“You were here Tuesday to look at the dolphin brooch. Said you’d be back today to purchase it.”

“I did.”

The clerk nodded. “I’ll get it for you.”

He came back with a pretty diamond brooch with pearl, pink diamonds, and a few emeralds making the shapes of three dolphins. “Sixty dollars,” he said.

Harvey furrowed his brow.

“It’s twenty percent of retail, like we agreed.”

“All right.” Harvey pulled out his credit card and paid, then slipped the brooch in his pocket.

A college girl wearing a cowboy hat won the contest with the song ‘Stand by your Man.’ Harvey wrote down the girl’s name, Mary Schafer. He felt a pang of guilt as he considered the efforts they were going to make to sabotage her effort.

He trotted back to the science building, climbed back in the time machine, and took it back to the science lab when he departed. The professors took the name from him and started research and planning for their subterfuge.

In the meantime, Harvey met Jeff at the nearby Starbucks.

Jeff slurped at the foam by the cup’s rim. “You seem contemplative.”

“Maybe a little.”

“You feeling guilty?”

Harvey shrugged.

“Tell me.”

Harvey took a long gulp of coffee, putting off the answer.

“Come on,” said Jeff. “It’s me. What’s got you worried?”

Harvey slouched and sighed. “My present self is about to go influence my past self to do something in the future that none of us thought of doing.”

“That sounds precarious. Are you sure you want to go through with it?” asked Jeff.

“At twenty percent retail? You bet I am.”

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