Short Story and Commentary on Time Travel
A prelude prior to this prompt. The premise is a billionaire arriving at a funeral home that specializes in being able to look into the future, depending on how much the customer pays, so they can see their legacy. In this case, it went quite far. I mean, a billionaire has a lot of money, naturally it would go far. I thought of turning it around though, having all the money he has lead to his legacy going only, say, 30 or 40 years into the future, as his money is used by his descendants and wasted or otherwise used up. But I felt I’d give the poor guy a break.
Additionally, this one got me thinking: why are we so obsessed about time travel? Time travel into the future, into the past, take your pick. We are curious about what we could change if we go into the past, that is the most common one. What we could have changed, what could have been done differently. There is also travel into the future, to a degree in this setting, to see where we will be and how we can avoid the future, or improve upon it now. But now is all we have. The obsession with time travel is simply an obsession with the future or past. We all have it, things we can’t let go, or fears about the future that inhibit our thoughts right now.
The best form of time travel, is now. Travel in time now, to places, to different minds through communication, and enjoy it. Travel now, here. Travel in the present. It’s the only one we can truly control.
A faint knock on the door. Another customer. “Come in” I bid the person in and step up from the terminal. A tall man wearing a black suit opens the door, white shirt, shades. He grunts and nods towards me at the same time and holds the door open. A fat man wobbles in, his weight supported on a stick. He was breathing heavily under his weight, his suit was near bursting. Custom made perhaps? I was not sure. His head was shiny, like a bowling ball. I remembered I have to arrange another bowling night with the boys, the last one was fun. “Good afternoon, sir. How can I help you?” I open my arms in a welcoming manner and smile. I force this smile, this customer will probably be full of demands. The man huffs and puffs before he takes a pause. He breathes in, out, then asks “Why do you have so many stairs to your funeral home?” he asks “And no ramp for the disabled. A sham” “The wheelchair ramp is on the right side of the building sir, as indicated by the sign” I tell him with my nicest face. He huffs and looks back. A grunt comes from him “Huh, ok, never mind” and looks for a chair. He flops down on the nearest one. It creaks slightly under his weight. The bodyguard closed the door. After a few more pants and huffs, with his space marine bodyguard at the door standing like a statue, he began to speak to me without any prompt from my side:
“So, you must know me, so I will spare myself the introduction” but I interrupted him “I am sorry, sir, I am not aware. Who are you?” I asked and stood a good distance away from him. He seemed about in his late 50s or early 60s, his triple chin quivering. “Ah, how could you not? Tell me, do you ever eat?” I said I do. He nodded and asked “Do you ever drink?” I nodded and confirmed that indeed, I do. “Well, my friend, I am the owner of Drink-Drank Co. and” he raised a finger and emphasised the next word “AND! Also, the Yum Yum Food Corporation” he took a handkerchief out of his breast pocket and dabbed his forehead “Quite a big corporation. Corporations, big ones. Loads of money. But I can feel my heart” he put his handkerchief away and tapped his chest after doing so “my heart is giving up on me. My lavish lifestyle and vices have put me in a precarious situation” he sighed “Doctor said I have to lose weight before they replace my organs with the clones. I told him I will try, but truth be told I probably won’t make it. So I have come here” he sighed “I can feel it. My heart. It beats it’s last beats and I don’t really want to live any longer. I’ve done my testament, my will. I have given all I can give. I feel good about all I have achieved. The appointment is ready, I fly to Switzerland on a week. You know how it is” he waved his hand and I nodded and folded my hands behind my back.
There was a silence. I waited for him to continue. He stared ahead so I began “I believe you-” he spoke simultaneously “I believe you-” and we looked at each other and laughed. His laugh became distorted and turned into a cough. I felt pity for the man, but his sensibility invoked respect towards me.
He urged me to speak so I did “I believe you have come due to the services I offer.” he nodded, his chins wobbling. I urged the bodyguard to help him up and answered “Follow me”. We walk towards the back of the funeral home I walked slowly and elaborated on the procedure. “So, as you probably know from our brochure, we offer a view far into the future. You can see what you have done in this life will affect in the future, your legacy so to speak. If you have given a homeless man a hearty meal and a home, you might see how his descendants have become lawyers and politicians. In your case, your company might have grown larger, expanding worldwide and enveloping all other companies around it, creating profits tenfold and making all of your descendants rich and grateful for all you have achieved for centuries to come” I had turned back to look at the man and he was smiling as he stumbled forward with his intricately designed cane. I had noticed that a golden vulture was atop of it. It reminded me of the sky burial traditions in the Tibetan mountains. I contemplated being “buried” in that manner. I turned and continued down the path. I opened a locked door with my hand print and the doors swung to the side. The chamber was secured tightly and had room enough for 6 people. But as always, it was only me and my customer who would go on into the future. “This is the chamber. Here we go into the future, albeit as observers, and are able to take a glimpse into your legacy. Now, you must take into account that depending on your legacy what we see will vary. We might see something epic, of monstrous proportions, or only a small section of your legacy that might have a larger reach. It varies from person to person.” I warned him.
He stood at the entrance and his hand upon the cane quivered. He could feel his future before him and his last breaths as well. He was fighting, and coughed up into the handkerchief he, as quickly as he could, took from his breast pocket. I noticed blood upon it, but he hid it quickly in shame. He looked at me, bashfully, and said “My fortune. My fortune for a view into my legacy” he told me, lips lightly red. I was perplexed. I was sure this behemoth of unhealthiness would wanted to only invest the littlest of money he had to see his legacy. I assumed he was a stingy, greedy man, hellbent only on profit and wealth. His suit told me so, his intricately designed cane told me so, the bodyguard told me so. I didn’t have a doubt, so I inquired to be sure. “Ah, your fortune, sir, how much would that be? I believe you are aware that depending on the amount you spend, the further you can look into the future”, and he nodded, chins wobbling “Yes, yes I am aware” he blubbered “and therefore I wish to invest everything I have into this endeavour” upon this the bodyguard took out a manilla envelope. The bodyguard handed it over and gave a slight bow. I took it in my hands, it was full to the brim. I looked at the mogul and he closed his eyes “The documents within that envelope hand everything I have ever owned, fortune, companies, estates, to your company, for the purpose of this endeavour” he coughed into the handkerchief and sighed, keeping it in his hand.
“In my last months, I have realised the folly of my previous desire for wealth, and wealth alone. I’ve had 3 wives, none really loved me. Friends that surrounded me, I could never call friends. I was ruthless, and relentless, in my desire for more material wealth. I believe I…” he sighed and looked in the non-existent distance of the chamber. He coughed lightly, handkerchief quick to rise to his mouth “I believe I did well, these past few months. Yes.” he did not elaborate further and looked my in the eyes. His eyes were hazel, with a hint of green. I noticed his lamentations were genuine, and he had tried his best in the past. “I am sure regret has followed you on your paths, but I hope you can find reassurance of your attempts at redemption in this process” I said, bowing slightly. I felt silly doing it, but as I rose again his eyes were watery and he nodded.
I bid the bodyguard to stand outside of the chamber and leave us to the chamber and hand the manilla envelope to my colleague who would calculate how far we would look into this man’s legacy. As we waited we talked. I asked “What do you think will contribute the most to your legacy?” and as we stood side by side, his odour was flowery and strong. Surely he used a large amount, or a very strong, perfume. He looked ahead and not at me, and spoke:
“I have had three wives, as I told you. Three beautiful wives. But they never loved me, I never believed them for a moment. I had two children with the first and she left me for my alcoholism. She was a sweet thing, innocent. I was a horrible husband, always have been. Only lately did I become better. I had another child with the second, but they both died in the terrorist attack on the Virgin Shuttle flight forty-nine. You’ve heard of it?” he looked at me with those hazel eyes and I nodded. He looked ahead again “The third wife was a trophy wife. We never had sex but she had a child I legitimised. I figured I might as well give that bastard a good life. His father was only a tennis trainer” he laughed and coughed. “Good child, that last one. Sweetest of them all. I believe she would be my legacy, if anything. She is smart, must be the trainer in her. I sent her to a good school, a really nice one. I believe she would carry on my legacy well” he smiled. I sighed now, and answered him “Sir, as I told you before, the more you invest, the farther you look ahead. By what you told me, you might be looking very, very far into the future. Your legitimised daughter might not even be living as far as we might look”. He did not answer. He simply stared ahead, and leaned heavier than before on his cane. We stood there in silence for a few moments — they felt like days — before my colleague, Richard, came with the results from the analysis of this man’s wealth: “Hey Bart, so this guy can look four thousand, three hundred and thirty-eight years into the future to his legacy” handing my the report. I looked upon it. 4338 years ahead. I nodded and showed it to the man.
He was in disbelief, coughed and looked at me with big eyes “This is how far my legacy goes?” he asked and I replied “This is as far as your money will go. I suppose your legacy might go farther still” and so we prepared to initiate the sequence.
He took a seat upon two metal chairs we kept in the corner, as did I, and the chamber began to calibrate. “Sir, please close your eyes if you are prone to epilepsy. This phase is quite bright and colourful and can lead to discomfort” he waved to nothing in particular and simply retorted “Ah, I’ll be fine” and I nodded. “Richard, let her rip” and the machine began it’s magic. The lights passed before us in quick succession. Our surroundings began to appear around us. It was a meadow, green as green can get. The hue of green reminded me of the sting of green in the man’s eyes. A single tree appeared on the meadow in front of us. It grew quickly, and was accompanied by more trees. Then more trees came around it, and more trees. As far as we could see, trees appeared. A vast, epic forest surrounded us until we could see the horizon no more. It stayed the same, with the forest roof rising higher and higher until we reached the final time. The letters “6454” appeared in the bottom right of our view. I elaborated to the man, that the year was 6454 and he nodded knowingly. We rose from our seats and began to walk in the forest.
The man looked at me and asked “This is it? A forest? This is my legacy?” and I could not entirely tell from the way he asked the question if he was disappointed or happy. We walked along the forest, the ground gave way, it was soft. I walked carefully, then turned to see the man huff and puff and every tree, holding onto everything. I often get lost in thought like this, Richard is better at these things. I went back and supported the old man as we walked through the forest. “All I have done, manifested in a forest…” he sighed. I believe he was disappointed, no doubt about it now. I remained silent until a few moments later we came upon a clearing. The clearing was trimmed neatly, with grass cut to a modest height. In the middle of the clearing was a stone monument and upon that monument was an epitaph, I could tell from afar. Around it were flowers, of all sorts and shapes. We approached it, carefully, the light shone through the trees and insects reflected the light majestically.
We arrived at the rune stone and we took a moment to read what was written upon it. The old man shook his head and laid down upon the grass. “I can’t stand. Tell me what it says” he coughed and waved me forward. Upon it were written the words “In memory of all those who remained after exodus. Never forgotten.” and a list of names. “Read the names, please” the man urged. I read the names aloud and the old man had laid down his body on the grass, looking upward. He gave no response until the last name, which was simply Aurelia. I turned to the man, his hazel eyes becoming glossed over with tears. He breathed heavily, and then gave one last breath, simply repeating the last name I spoke aloud, “Aurelia”.
He died there and then. This wasn’t the first time this had happened, to be sure, but the first time I had seen it. Richard had gone through it before. I was still in the future however, as we still had a few hours left in this state, and with a dead old man lying next to me. He was gone, to be sure, so I walked around the runestone and on the other side of it, there was the image of a space shuttle. “Exodus 3138” it said at the top. Below it read “Exodus 3138 was a joint endeavour of all worldly sub-governments to assure the survival of the Earth and returning it to it’s natural state. We recognise the brave souls with this runestone and their effort to plant forests, clean the pollution, and re-establish nature to it’s former state. Aurelia Vonnegut was the last surviving member of the Vonnegut family who sacrificed her family’s fortune to ensure the fortune left by her great-great-great-granddaughter Aurelia Vonnegut née Falkner.”
I sat down in front of the runestone. Never before had we gone this far, nor had we ever before received a payment in this amount. It was us, we would help his legacy. His legacy was our legacy. I looked up towards the open space in the forest and had tears in my eyes.