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The Time Possibility

March 31, 2009

By Jenny Moore

“Why do you want to work with me on the science project, Galvin?” Skein asked suspiciously.

“I’ll get kicked off the basketball team if my grades don’t improve,” I answered honestly.  Not to mention Mom flipping out when she learned that I was failing classes.

Skein smirked.  “And you thought I could get you an A?”

“Obviously.”  I remembered all the reasons I disliked Skein, starting with his arrogance and going on from there, but I was desperate.  I had enough catching up to do in other classes.  I needed an easy A in science.

“He already has a partner,” Sammy said.  She looks like a supermodel and everyone knew that Skein had a major crush on her, just like everyone knew that Sammy couldn’t get an A to save her life.  The girl was dumb.

We exchanged evil eyes.  She was a spoiled rich kid.  I didn’t have any use for her.

“We are allowed to work in groups of three.”  Skein sounded thoughtful.  “Okay, Galvin.  You’re in.”

I gave Sammy my best cocky grin and she looked like she’d found a slug in her salad.

“My project takes a look at the future,” Skein said.

That afternoon, I stood in Skein’s room and said, “I didn’t think you meant it literally.  This is, like, sci-fi!”

Sammy and I both held small devices in our hands.  They looked like electrical switches connected to batteries. “What’s with the duct tape?” I asked.

Skein flushed.  “I have to make do with what I can get.”

A mad scientist on a budget.  Great.

“I’ve finally gotten this time machine perfected. I think. Both handhelds are remotely connected to the machine”—Skein pointed to a mess of wires and pulsing green lights in a corner—“I’ve programmed the destination year in. You flip the switches up to go, and down to return. Simple!”  He beamed.

“Will it really work?” Sammy asked.

I had something else on my mind.  “Why don’t you have a handheld, Skein?  Aren’t you coming with us?”

Skein blinked.  “I’ll be monitoring the experiment and recording results.  What did you think I needed partners for?”

“Oh, yeah.  What was I thinking?” I said sarcastically.  The great scientist would never risk his own skin.

Sammy was giving Skein the sort of look that should have skewered him on the spot. “All you needed partners for?” she repeated with ice in her voice.  “So you don’t care what happens to me?  Is that what you’re saying?”

Skein turned bright red.  “I didn’t mean—I mean”— He stammered to a stop.

I grinned.  I guess Skein’s love life wasn’t going to improve all of a sudden.  That was one comfort. “This won’t work,” I said. “But I suppose we should get it over with.”

“What year are we going to?” Sammy asked, flinging another nasty look at Skein.

I shook my head.  She actually believed we would be going somewhere!

“One hundred years in the future,” Skein said calmly, twiddling with his computer. “Get ready.  Go!”

I flipped the switch. Instantly, the world went backwards and inside out, and my ears popped.  I felt queasy. Time-sickness, I thought, trying to deal with the shock that something was happening after all.  Oh yay.

Sammy was still next to me, looking confused.  But then, that’s her normal expression.  “We haven’t gone anywhere!” she said.

We were still standing in Skein’s room. Only we weren’t. I turned around. It was the same room but without the space posters and messy wires.  And without Skein, which

hugely improved it, let me tell you.  Now there were bright peachy walls and a couch that looked like it was carved out of bone. In fact, the bone looked like a dinosaur jaw that I had seen in a museum once.

“Corny decorating,” Sammy said. She looked around like the future was unbelievably boring. “I thought there’d be spaceships, or aliens, or something.”

“Yeah,” I said weakly.  “Why not?”  That’s the point of the future, isn’t it?  You can imagine it any way you want to because you’ll never know.  Except now, I did.  I was there.

Sammy squinted at two pictures on the wall.  “Hey, look!”

The pictures were of us.  Me and Sammy. We looked older, but it was definitely us.

“Wild!” I said.

“What’s going on?”  Sammy’s voice shook.

“Dunno.”  I felt wobbly too.  It was mind-bending to see myself as an adult.  Like, really disturbing, but kind of wonderful, too. “Let’s find out.” I tiptoed out of the room. Sammy followed.

There was a sleek kitchen downstairs with a robot at the sink, making salad.  It didn’t seem to notice us.

“It’s not programmed to see strangers,” I decided. I looked around uneasily.  A robot was one thing, but where were the people who lived in this house?  When would they come back?

A thing that looked like an iPod sat on the table.  The miniature screen was filled with words.  Sammy picked it up and stared at it.

“What’s that?”  I peered over her shoulder.

She shrugged.  “How should I know?”

I rolled my eyes.  “You could read it,” I said.

Her face burned.  I grinned and took the little gadget from her.  I’d almost forgotten how dumb she was.  Then I started reading and felt all the breath go out of me.

“What’s it say?” Sammy asked.

“It’s a homework assignment,” I mumbled without looking up.  I felt like the universe was playing an elaborate practical joke on me.  This couldn’t be true!

A door slammed and feet hurried on the stairs.  Our eyes met for a frozen second.  Then I dropped the homework and pulled my handheld out of my pocket.  Sammy’s was already in her hand.  We flipped the switches.

A second later, we were in Skein’s kitchen.  He was pouring himself a glass of milk, which slopped onto the floor as we appeared.  “Don’t scare me like that!” he said.  “So what was the future like?”

Sammy glared at him.  She obviously had not forgiven him yet.  “Like now.  Only with more gadgets and better decorations.  Oh, and you weren’t there.  That was good.”

I grinned.  Maybe we had more in common than I’d thought.  But there was something I needed to tell them. “That homework assignment was about us,” I said. “Apparently, we’re really famous in the future.  The sort of people that everyone has pictures of, hanging on their walls.  Everyone knows who we are.”

Skein grinned.  “All of us?”

That was one good thing. “Not you. You were just mentioned as the inventor of the machine but it said that Sammy and I were the first time travelers and that we developed

a business around it. Like, we logged the prehistoric forests and brought back new inventions from the future. It sounded like we saved the world from a huge depression.”

“By destroying forests?” Sammy sounded horrified. I didn’t like that part either, but the rich and famous bit fascinated me. It was weird, reading about stuff that I hadn’t done yet. Would I really do it some day? And Sammy couldn’t even read! How could she be famous?

Skein looked like he thought I was the one playing a joke on him.  “I invented the machine!  I should be famous too!”

“Go to the future and see for yourself!” I snapped.

He looked shocked. “Something might go wrong with the computer. You couldn’t fix it.  No. I can’t risk myself.”

Sammy stared at me with her beautiful, blank eyes. “I’m famous too?” she breathed. “It really said that?”

I’d had enough of them both for one day. “It was just some homework assignment. Not important. I’m going home.”

Mom chewed me out for being late as she got ready for her night job. Then she was gone, and I had time to think as I fixed supper for my little sisters. I wanted to know if what I had read was true. I still had the handheld in my pocket. Skein had forgotten to ask for it back. I didn’t know if I had the nerve to go into the future by myself, though.

The next day, I ran into Sammy in the hallway. We looked at each other warily. The bell rang but neither of us moved.

“It’s for science class,” she said finally.

I nodded.  “And we’re working on our science project.”

We both reached for our handhelds.

When the world stopped spinning, we were in the same place.  The hallway was painted a dull gray and the paint was peeling.  The lockers were dented and most of them had lost their locks.  The water fountain had an orange stain in it.

“This is creepy,” Sammy said.  “It’s like no one’s cleaned here for twenty years.”

“School has really gone downhill,” I agreed, “and that’s saying something!”

A group of students came down the hall and skidded to a stop at the sight of us. I always thought that school would be pretty much the same: kids laughing and talking, wearing bright clothes, flirting a lot…. Not now. The kids that faced us were silent with grim, hollow faces.  They wore limp, stained clothes, like they’d raided a sleazy second hand store.

“Why are they looking at us like that?” Sammy whispered.

“Because we’re strangers?” I guessed, but that didn’t explain the horror in their eyes or the shivering murmur that ran through the group.

“Why have you come here?” one boy asked.  “Haven’t you done enough?”

A girl jostled close to him, her eyes buggy with loathing. “It really is them!” She sounded scared and excited at the same time. “The history wreckers! They played with the past and took money for it. Whole families were never born because of them! They upset the entire shape of time and they’re here, in our school! Quick! Contact the police!”

I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. I had almost expected them to act like we were heroes.  Instead, they were staring at the two of us like we were Hitler and Jack the Ripper come to visit.

Sammy grabbed my arm.  “Let’s get out of here!”

I was still frozen.  I didn’t want to believe what was happening. Sammy reached over and flipped the switch on my handheld. A second later, I was stumbling against Skein, still feeling a shadow of hatred from the future.

“I guessed what you were doing when you didn’t turn up in class,” Skein said, sidestepping me. “What did you find out this time?”

Sammy explained what had happened. “I don’t get it,” she finished. “Last time, we were famous. This time, everyone hated us.”

She was right. It didn’t make sense. All I knew was, I had to figure it out. I needed to go the future again.

I waited in front of Sammy’s house the next morning. I felt like I owed her something. Like, maybe an apology. But I ended up just saying awkwardly, “Thanks for bringing me back yesterday. I couldn’t think straight with all those kids talking about the police, but you didn’t lose your head at all.”

She looked flustered. I realized suddenly that this was probably the first nice thing I’d ever said to her. That made me feel worse than ever. “I may not be good at school work,” she said, “but I’m not totally stupid.”

“Yeah,” I said slowly. “I guess I should have figured that out sooner.”

There was a long silence.

“We could give our handhelds back to Skein,” she said finally. “Tell the science teacher about it and let her test it. We’d still get good grades. We’ve been to the future twice. That would be enough.”

“It’s not about the grade anymore,” I said fiercely, suddenly very sure of what I needed to do. “I want to know who I am in the future. Whether I’m someone wonderful, or a total jerk.”

Sammy nodded like she hadn’t expected me to say anything else. “Let’s go then.”

We went.

The street hadn’t changed much. Sammy’s house was still in front of us, but there was a sign above its door.

“It’s been turned into a library!” I said. “Let’s check it out!”

Inside, the comfortable rooms were filled with books and humming electronics. People moved and murmured on the stairs. Their clothes were like something from the thirties, only in fluorescent colors. No one seemed to recognize us. No one yelled for the police.

“This is so weird,” Sammy breathed. She looked vaguely upset. I suppose it would be weird to wander through your home and see it full of strangers.

I headed for a room full of computers. They were smaller than the ones I was used to and had more features. Sammy fiddled with a pair of goggles that were hooked to the largest computer while I tried to figure out which button did what.

“I can read it!” Sammy shrieked all of a sudden. I practically had a heart attack but, when I turned around, she was just staring at a screen through the goggles with her mouth wide open. “It’s like it sorts all the letters out in my head and puts them together so they make sense!”

“That’s great,” I said absently, studying an encyclopedia program that looked interesting. “I don’t think you should worry so much about reading, though. It’s not that wonderful. Money’s more important than brains any day.”

“No, it’s not,” Sammy said seriously.

We stared at each other.  I suppose we were both seeing things in a different way. I wondered which of us was right.

Then the computer found the information I’d asked for and recited in a mechanical voice: “Galvin Marcus Torraine and Samantha Cho. Little is known of these two, save for their involvement with an early time machine. The machine was built by Skein McAlden and, it is believed, destroyed due to arguments regarding its use. McAlden later designed time machines for government agencies, but Torraine and Cho faded out of history. It is known that Torraine died in 2074. Sammy lived on until 2083. For more information, see ‘time machines’.”

I stared at the computer. “I never thought about us being dead in the future.”

“I still don’t understand,” Sammy said. “We’ve come to the future three times and it’s different each time.”

My mouth dropped open. “Say that again.”

“That it’s different each time? It is! It doesn’t make sense!”

“They’re possibilities!” I exclaimed. “We haven’t been to one future. We’ve been to three different ones! Any of them might come true. Or something else might happen. It all depends on us, and what we do!”

I felt relieved and worried at the same time. I hadn’t wanted to be a cross between Hitler and Jack the Ripper, but I suddenly felt responsible. The future could be a horrible place if I did things wrong. Or it could be wonderful, if I made the right decisions. Then again, I might fade into it without leaving a mark at all.

“Do you think Skein really will wreck the time machine?” Sammy asked.

“Dunno.” I smiled suddenly. “Let’s go home and find out.”

Skein said he wasn’t going to destroy the time machine. No way. Or at least, not until our science project got the A that it richly deserved. He had some improvements for it, too. Like a communication device that allowed the machine operator to talk to the time traveler. And—

Sammy and I smiled at each other. Maybe we will go to the future again. Or to the past. I don’t see why we should have to talk to Skein while we’re there, though.

But right now, I have to baby-sit my sisters and Sammy’s parents are helping her with her homework. Tomorrow, we’re going to hang out and maybe watch a movie about aliens and spaceships.

The future can wait for a little bit.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2009 10:05 PM

    “A mad scientist on a budget. Great.” I l Loved that comment and the whole story concept. It’s an interesting twist on the time travel idea.

  2. April 6, 2009 2:27 PM

    Ahhh! Very satisfying resolution: we all have that kind of power over our futures. Good story.

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