“Your mission, should you choose to accept it – but actually you don’t have any choice – is to go to 2034 to take out a gentleman named Eldred Banks.”
“D’you mean, kill?” I asked.
“Well, yes, if you put it like that.”
My controller smiled. “Well, let’s just say he’ll be in charge of a pretty nasty weapon, and it’ll be best for the future world if he’s not left to his own devices.”
“How will I do it then?”
“Don’t worry about it. You’ll have help when you get there. It’ll be a piece of cake for a man of your talent!”
“So where am I going, exactly?”
He smiled. “Sunglasses and suntan lotion will come in handy, Tim. Tunisia.”
Well, I’d done a couple of past-time missions, but that was strictly to observe. You couldn’t change things without unpredictable repercussions. So much so that you might come back to the present to find you no longer existed, which could be a bit tricky to say the least.
So, this was different. The future wasn’t fixed, although it might flow along ‘predicted’ lines. Just that my department had decided to make it its job to predict those lines a bit more fixedly, to favour ourselves and ‘friendly’ governments. Though whether they’d still be friendly in fourteen years’ time was another matter.
“You’ll be known as Lionel Ledbetter, a reporter for The Review. We’ll program you with the background required. And by the way, don’t be getting any ideas about checking out future sporting events for you to bet on when you get back. We’ll wipe your memory on your return!”
My controller laughed. “Sorry, computer-selected, old bean!”
So, I’d been taken into the circle of time-flux expanders, but this time they’d whirled around anti-clockwise. The room had appeared much like I imagined a hallucinogenic drug would make me feel. All swirling bands of bright colours and pulsing vibrations.
Suddenly, I’d found myself in a hotel room at the airport, my luggage somehow already there for me. A calendar said 2034. I’d spent the evening trying to work out all the gadgets invented since 2020 and helping myself to the contents of the cocktail fridge, which hadn’t changed.
The night had been spent with a gorgeous young android. You’d gotta hand it to the Japs, they’d got the skin tone and feel just right. It seemed a shame to have to go back to the real women of the present.
The airport didn’t seem all that different though most of the staff were evidently android. I approached an attractive oriental lady behind the counter who scanned my pass-card. All was in order it seemed as she gave me a bright smile – the same robotic smile all the other assistants were giving – and waved me in the direction of boarding. In fact, planes hadn’t advanced as much as I’d expected. The engines were a bit quieter but the aisles were still cramped and the other passengers just as irritating, in fact more so as most of them were plugged into face visors and rocking around in their seats to whatever adventure they were on in the virtual world.
Then I was speeding along a desert road, driven by an actual human, a Tunisian named Karim, “Call me Rocky.” In the far distance loomed a huge concrete dome, with the equally huge initials BAWR, Banks Advanced Weapons Research. “Mr Banks is a busy man,” said ‘Rocky.’ “but we’ve arranged for you to spend a little time with him, under cover of a reporter writing about real lives of top weapons scientists. You’ll have to do what you need to do, then get out fast. You’ll have help inside. I’ll fill you in on what you need to know as we drive.”
Arriving in the cavernous reception area, I felt like an ant going into an anthill. Above, the ceiling looked a very long way off. I was shown to a lift that took me up dozens of floors, then I clambered into a remote-controlled car which careered along corridor after corridor of labs with signs such as Gluon Accelerator Room and Demoleculariztion Suite. I’d have quite enjoyed a proper tour there.
A gorgeous black-skinned secretary showed me into Eldred Banks’s gigantic office, whose enormous windows gazed upon mile after mile of empty desert. The sun blazed down but fortunately the windows were made of a material that neutralized its light and heat. The man himself was slim, handsome, athletic-looking and olive-skinned. He shook my hand warmly and waved me to a sofa, taking a seat opposite. “Mr. Ledbetter, it’s good to meet you. I won’t offer you a drink. I can only give you fifteen minutes I’m afraid. We’re working on something important and, er, revolutionary, I think it’s fair to say. A bit of a gamechanger in fact. But I understand The Review want an article and I’m pleased to help. Fire away.”
I opened my briefcase, took out a pulse gun, stood up and pointed it at his head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Banks, I have to do this, to save the future of the world.”
Eldred Banks looked astonished, raising his hands. “Don’t shoot!”
I pulled the trigger.
He laughed. “Another try?”
I looked at the gun. The green light was on, the safety catch was off. There was enough power there to blow the head off a rhinoceros. I aimed at him again and pulled the trigger.
“You look like you could use a drink, Lionel.” Eldred reached for a decanter and poured two tumblers. He waved me to sit down. “You drink Scotch?”
I nodded and took one with shaking hands.
“Look, Lionel, you’re not in the future.” Eldred smiled. “You’re back in the lab, this is just an experiment, they’re fucking with your mind.”
I sipped my whisky. It tasted real enough. Maybe my weapon was faulty? The department wouldn’t be that devious, surely? Or would they?
“Look, all the past time travel stuff, it’s real, but the future, it’s something else. To travel here, you’d have to shift the very fabric of space-time.”
“But, er …” My mind was well and truly boggled. “How do I get back?”
He handed me two small yellow pills. “Take these.”
I swallowed the first with some whisky.
“Cheers.” He tapped his glass against mine and smiled.
Then wham! I was back in the circle of time-flux-expanders with men in white coats looking at me apologetically. “So sorry, Tim, it didn’t work.”
“Whaddya mean it didn’t work? I was in the future!”
My controller stepped forward. “Actually, no you weren’t, Tim. We don’t know what happened. There was no time-flux transmission. The main thing is you’re OK. Come with me, have some tea then we’ll debrief you.”
I felt something in my hand and looked down at a yellow pill. I slipped it into a pocket. I’d get a scientist friend to analyse it later. “Yeah, OK, sure.” Someone was fucking with my mind alright. The question was – who?
Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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