Into The Future
By Samantha Pirog
“You volunteered to do what?” Mom’s shrill voice filled the kitchen, piercing my ears. Wincing, I took a deep breath. My eyes quickly scanned the faces surrounding me at the table to see how the rest were taking the news.
On my right, Dad’s eyes bulged. His mouth kept opening and closing like a fish straining for oxygen. On my other side sat my brother, Dave, and his wife, Sonya. Her head was tilted and her forehead was crinkled as if I’d just told a joke she didn’t understand. Dave dropped his smart phone with a loud clatter, staring at me as if he hoped I was kidding. Then directly across from me, was lovely Mom. Cheeks flaming, hands planted flat against the table, and leaning so far over that the ends of her honey-colored hair were soaking up her onion soup.
“It’s not a big deal,” I waved my hand casually, using my strawberry blonde hair as a curtain to hide my face.
“Not a big deal?” Dad had finally found his voice. “Janice, you volunteered to travel through time. How can that not be a big deal?”
It took me a minute to meet his watery-blue eyes. Instead of the angry glint I feared he’d share with Mom there was sadness in them. I gulped, trying to swallow down the rising guilt. Why couldn’t I have been scheduled to leave before Dad’s birthday dinner?
“Okay, it is a big deal. In the contract”
“You’ve already signed a contract?” Mom interrupted, her voice dangerously quiet.
“I signed it weeks ago,” I sighed, finally giving up hope this conversation was going to go well.
“And what makes you think we’ll let you go on this insane adventure?” She growled.
“Considering I’m twenty five years old, I’d say because I’ve had the legal right to for years.” Chin up, I glared straight back at her.
“How long will you be gone?” Dad asked.
I held her gaze a few moments longer. Then turning to Dad, I answered, “Only five years.”
He nodded slowly. “What—”
“You’re not actually okay with this, Brian? We might never see her again!” Mom wailed.
“I’m trying to be. And you don’t know that, Daisy.” His eyes came back to mine. “What were you going to say was in the contract?”
“It guarantees me a permanent spot in their Communications Department. In five years, of course,” I chuckled.
Sonya was the only one who smiled.
Clearing my throat, I kept going. “I’ll be making $100,000 a year. I can finally move out of my crappy apartment in Boston. All I have to do is record my experience afterwards.”
“How does their machine work?” Dad asked.
“Well, since I’m just interning right now at ITF, I don’t know much. I mean, not as much as their engineers and scientists do,” I backpedaled a little when everyone’s faces turned skeptical. “The machine creates a portal after Dr. Howe—”
“Who’s he?” Mom interjected.
“She is heading the ‘Wells Project’; they named it after the guy who wrote The Time Machine over two hundred years ago. Anyways, once Dr. Howe plugs in the date to the machine, it creates a portal that will take me to September 22nd, 2120.”
“But how did they figure out how to do it?” Dave spoke up for the first time since I dropped the news.
I pursed my lips, “that’s… a lot harder to explain. Like I said, since I’ve only been working in their Communications Department, they didn’t tell me a whole lot. They kept all the classified stuff to themselves. Annie, one of Dr. Howe’s assistants, mentioned something about black holes? She did explain that I need to be certain this is something I want to do, because the machine can only take people forward in time, not back.”
The kitchen was silent for a couple of minutes save for the leaky sink that dripped every few seconds. Avoiding everyone’s stares, I glanced around the room. The wallpaper was starting to peel off along the windows and beside the stained refrigerator. Several of my parent’s appliances were shabby at best. Mom had had to cut off the edges of the shepherd’s pie the oven had turned to charcoal. Perhaps while I was gone, they’d find the time to refurbish the kitchen. My apartment wasn’t much better, but soon I’d be a completely independent, middle-class citizen. I could buy a car with the autopilot feature, maybe even rent out an apartment with a robotic oven once I’d saved up enough.
“What’re you smiling about?”
The dreamy grin slid off my face as my eyes refocused on Mom’s scowl. “I was thinking about not having to live in some rat hole for once in my life,” I snapped back.
Her face turned an ugly shade of purple, the vein in her forehead becoming more pronounced by the second. “How dare—”
“Sonya’s pregnant,” Dave blurted out, his eyes on Dad’s troubled face.
Sonya’s bright green eyes shot from her plate to Dave. All eyes were on him as she stuttered out, “I t-thought we w-were going to tell—”
“This seemed like a good time.” He looked anywhere but at me.
Dad was the first to get up and hug them. Suddenly we were all taking turns hugging them, saying “congratulations” over and over. Then I caught Mom’s eye, tears welled up and spilled out in rivers over her cheeks. At first, I thought they were joyful tears. Then her face really started to crumble, and suddenly she was weeping into her hands.
Dad took her shoulders gently, rubbing his thumbs over her pink sweater. She raised her head just enough to howl, “you won’t get to see their baby grow up!”
“Mom, it’s only five years…” Dave whispered.
Swallowing hard, I marched past them all to the door, eyes glued to the ground. I slammed the front door behind me. A sob ripped its way out of my throat as I stumbled to my car.
The day before my journey, Dad, Dave, and Sonya came by my apartment. I’d already said my goodbyes to my friends a few days ago.
“Do you need any help bringing this to storage?” Dad asked, eyes roaming over all the boxes stacked along the living room wall.
I shook my head. “I want to do it myself. Thanks, though. So, where’s Mom?”
His face crinkled in pity. “She’s not coming, Janice. I’m so sorry.”
His arms were around me, and I buried my face in the warmth of his chest.
“Are you sure you want to do this, sweetie?” He rubbed my back until I’d calmed down enough to pull away.
“Yes,” I sniffled, rubbing my eyes with the sleeves of my dark blue shirt.
Dave and Sonya assured me that they weren’t angry I was going. I gave them the gift I’d bought and wrapped the day after that dinner, and told them it was for their baby’s first birthday. They wished me luck after multiple hugs, then went to wait outside for Dad.
Pulling me into one last bone crushing hug, he said in a firm voice, “I love you, Janice. Your mom loves you, too. Hold onto that, if you ever need it.”
No one was allowed to enter the laboratory with the time machine unless they were wearing the proper equipment. It was viewable from a large reinforced window connecting the two main labs. Seven feet in height and width, thick metal coils formed a perfect circle on top of a small black platform. It was controlled by a computer with an eighty inch screen to my right. Dr. Howe and her assistants stood in front of the screen while they did the finals checks.
When I finished the form—ten questions I’d have to answer again when I came out the other side—Annie brought me the suit I had to wear. It was almost identical to the kind I’d seen pictures of astronauts wearing.
“This will protect you from the extreme temperatures and radiation,” she explained, holding it out to me. “You can change behind that curtain.” She pointed to the corner on my left.
After suiting up, I stepped out from behind the curtain and came face to face with Dr. Howe. Her dark skin was blemish free, except for a scar that ran across her crooked nose. She was already half a foot taller than me, but in heels she was a tower.
Beaming, she said, “Everything’s ready. Are you?”
“Yes,” I said, hoping I sounded as confident as she did.
“Excellent! Now, since you’re the second to be sent, our first adventurer, Helen, will be waiting for you on the other side. Annie went over the rest of the procedure with you?” I nodded.
“Great! In you go then.” Dr. Howe gestured to the sealed doors next to the window.
Once inside, I walked to the designated spot in front of the machine marked with a red ‘X’.
I closed my eyes and waited. After the flash of blinding light, I felt my body being pulled upwards into a horizontal position. I opened my eyes as I was brought towards a swirling circle of colors by the portal’s gravity. Heart hammering, I sucked in a deep breath, willing myself to calm down. As my feet disappeared behind the colors, a hot tingling sensation spread through them. It made its way up as more and more of my body went through the portal.
Just before my eyes and the rest of my face was engulfed, the lights in the lab went out.
The machine turned off and the portal disappeared—along with the gravity that had been pulling, then pushing me through—as soon as I was on the other side. The tingling sensation was gone, quickly replaced with uneasiness. When I cautiously got to my feet, the overhead lights flickered twice before the room was filled with light. There was a motion sensor on the ceiling that hadn’t been there before. But that wasn’t why panic was creeping up my spine.
A thick layer of dust blanketed the room, including two objects on a table against the wall. Turning in a slow circle, I looked through the window past the empty ring of the machine. It was dark. Helen was nowhere to be seen. As far as I could tell, no one was in the other room at all.
I moved towards the table and picked up an aged, light brown envelope. Next to it was a large stack of familiar looking rectangular pieces of plastic. I opened the envelope and gently pulled out the letter inside.
“No… no, no, no,” I whispered.
I stared unseeing at the wall long after I’d finished reading. Flinging the envelope and letter back onto the table, I eventually took a key card from the stack as the letter instructed and headed for the door. I slid it along the adjacent slot and the door opened with a low groan. I pulled off the suit in the other lab just as the lights flickered on. I kept the boots on though, seeing as I’d had to leave my shoes behind. Dust covered every inch of this lab, too.
Icey cold stung my skin, I’d forgotten these labs were in the building’s basement. Choking back panic, I pushed on through the last door. Pocketing the key card, the lock clicked shut with the door behind me. I pushed the elevator buttons several times without success. Screaming with pursed lips, I kicked the doors in frustration. But soon the chill was pushing me towards the stairs. My body began to warm again as I climbed the four sets to the first floor. Using the key card again, I stepped through the door.
The corridor was filled with filing cabinets. I looked behind me as the door clicked shut. Someone had designed the door to blend back in with the white walls. Could I get back in if I tried?
Shaking my head, I moved past the cabinets. It didn’t take me long to reach the lobby.
Everything was different.
Light was streaming in from massive windows beside the entrance, the granite flooring had been replaced with fake wood, and beautiful pieces of art hung from yellowish cream-colored walls. There was a blonde woman sitting behind a mahogany desk, typing away on a sleek, silver computer. She wore a refined business suit, but something about it looked strange.
Assuming that was the front desk, I knew she’d have answers to at least a few of my questions. With no idea what I was going to say, I strode up to her.
Her eyes flicked up. Smiling politely, she asked, “Can I help you?”
I didn’t answer. My eyes were fixed on the digitized calendar hanging on the wall behind her. Rubbing my eyes frantically, I looked again.
“Ma’am? Are you all right?” Frowning, she glanced behind her to see what I was goggling at.
“That… that calendar… the day and year are wrong.” I stated, but my voice faltered. Please, please tell me I’m right, I prayed.
Horror choked my throat when she turned back to me and shook her head. “No, March 20th, 2165 is the right date. What other year would it be?”