Time traveller Part 3

The final part of the short story where the couple have arrived in what is the lady’s present time, but the young man’s future.

At first it was hard to take in what my eyes were trying to show me and I thought they were still blurred from our trip; either that or I was dreaming. I turned in a 360-degree circle to get a better view, and it was only when she said ‘Ouch. You can let go of my hand now,’ I realised I was nearly twisting her arm off.

‘Sorry, Laz,’ I apologised. ‘Is this for real?’

‘Sure is,’ she smiled. ‘What do you think of it so far?’

I paused for a moment before giving her an answer. As far as the eye could see was a vast expanse of what looked like scrubland, except there was no vegetation, no buildings or trees and it was deathly silent.

‘Different,’ I finally answered.

She took my hand again then laughed as she said ‘I shouldn’t tease you like that. The truth is I’m not totally confident about landing yet, so it’s safer to aim for somewhere I know nothing is going to be in the way if I misjudge it a bit. Let’s go.’

After walking a few yards, she tapped on the side of a rock-like object which slid open to reveal the entrance to what seemed to be a lift. My guess was right as the next moment I felt us descending at a speed which made my stomach lurch. When the doors slid open a totally different site met my eyes. It was a cross between an underground carpark, housing estate, train station and metropolis, full of bustle and activity. Scores of people wearing similar outfits to my girlfriend dashed past, but something seemed odd.

At first I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, then I realised; the background noise was only the quiet hum of machinery and no one was speaking. Despite the number of people around, they all seemed to be keeping their heads down as they hurried into one of the vehicles lined up on our left. Leading me over to them Laz touched the door of an empty car and pulled me inside.

‘It’s a bit of a tight squeeze, but people don’t often travel in pairs so they’re only designed for single occupancy.’

I solved that problem by sitting down on the solitary seat and pulling her onto my lap. She touched the wall beside us and entered some numbers into what looked like an ATM machine. Our car started rolling and an illuminated panel materialised, showing coordinates and a map on which a moving dot displayed what I assumed were our starting and finishing points.

After a while the doors slid open, the floor swivelled and extended until we were deposited in front of a door leading into what appeared to be a normal room of a house. Laz touched a control panel on the wall inside and a giant screen appeared. To one side was a long list of buttons, with many of them having an illuminated light showing.

‘Whoops,’ Laz laughed, ‘it looks as if I’ve got a bit of catching up to do. Why don’t you get yourself something to eat while I deal with a few of these messages?’

Assuming she wanted a bit of privacy I wandered off to find the kitchen and the bathroom. That’s when I noticed not only were there no windows, but the door through which we had entered was the only one. Turning round I noticed the image of someone on the screen to whom Laz was chatting animatedly. Sensing me behind her she said a quick goodbye, touched a panel and the screen went black.

‘Sorry Honey,’ she smiled, ‘I forgot you would need some help the same way I did when we first met. Right. Food is here. She touched another panel in the far left hand corner of the room and a screen with push buttons appeared showing a menu down the side.

Touching a button with a drinks symbol, a sub menu appeared. There were other images for all kinds of food and drink and I quickly got the hang of it as I realised it was a meal ordering machine. It was set up with drop-down menus like the traditional computers I was used to, but much easier to use. When I touched the ‘complete’ button a list came up of what I had ordered, the time until delivery and the cost. I pressed ‘Confirm’ then glanced at my watch to see how accurate their delivery times would be.

Leading me to the other corner of the room Laz pressed another control and a Jacuzzi bath and shower unit glided out. A toilet and bidet appeared next but I realised there was no shower curtain or privacy. Although we had lived together for a year and I wasn’t a prude, I did wonder how people adapted to sharing their most private moments. A ping announced the arrival of my meal, exactly to the second it was predicted. A table and chair extended from the wall and the food was deftly deposited on it, together with a glass for the drink, a water jug and the necessary cutlery.

Laz had said she would eat later, and while I consumed the excellent, piping hot meal she had gone back to her message board. This time she seemed to have deliberately left the screen blank as she sometimes spoke, and sometimes typed her replies. When I had finished eating she showed me how to press the ‘Done’ button and the procedure reversed, with all the remnants of the meal disappearing through the wall as the table and chairs receded. A comfortable settee appeared, the lights dimmed and soft music played gently in the background. My girlfriend came to snuggle up next to me, and although it was spacious, I realised the couch was only designed for one person.

‘That’s what I love about your time,’ she murmured. ‘Nowadays we spend nearly all of our lives alone in our cubicles. Of course we have contact with our friends and family through the wall technology, but it’s not the same as actually touching someone.’

‘What happens about, you know, sex? And how does it work when babies come along?’

‘When we’re told we are to be matched, a transporter is sent to take us to the joining building where we meet our designated mate. Then when the new infant is born it goes to the development centre. What you would call ‘robots’ teach them all they need to know until they are allocated their own unit. It’s a good system. The population is regulated to the optimum number, there are no wars or crime, and the economy is stable because all wealth is distributed evenly. Basic food and drink is free, and the rest of your allowance you can spend on whatever luxuries you like.’

‘Where does the money come from? What about work? And how did you manage to get back to my time?’

‘We’re allocated duties once we’ve reached working age and been assessed. I think someone mucked up with mine as I was given ancient history research which I loathe. At least it allowed me to make one visit for my studies, which was where I met you. I hate antiquity investigation but loved physically being in your time, which was why I kept sneaking back. I think they might have their suspicions but so far I’ve got away with it. The problem is I’ve now got to make the decision; do I make it a permanent transfer or continue my life here? I don’t think it’s ever been done before but I’m sorely tempted, especially if you were there with me.’

Thinking about the way this modern world was geared to solitary existence and regulation of individuals, I knew it would not be feasible for me to stay here. It was the age-old problem of where two people with different outlooks should live if they wanted to be together, except in our case it was when, not where. She was quiet for a few minutes, then crossing to the computer I saw her type a message on her screen.

‘Goodbye everyone. Don’t worry about me; I will be fine and happy. Who knows, maybe one day in the future or the past we will meet again. Love you all.’

She hesitated for a minute then firmly pressed ‘Send to all’ and closed down her computer.

She had one last look round then taking my hand gave me a bitter-sweet smile.

‘OK Sunshine, let’s get this show on the road. If you dare to say a word about the power of women navigators, you’re on your own. Let’s go home.’

© Val Portelli February 2016


3 thoughts on “Time traveller Part 3

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