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Work in Progress – July 28, 2022

Locations: Fiction Published

The Man Next Door, Part Two
By Tom Mercer

My name is Alex and this is my story. It was the last week in May 2075 when Chrono-Corp transported me back in time to the first part of  the 21st century. My geographical target was the city of Arlington Heights, Massachusetts. I was not the first agent to be involved in the corporation’s time-travel missions, and I had no reason to believe that I would be the last. Many had made the leap before me, and many would doubtless follow.

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I had successfully completed the company’s training program, and I had made an exhaustive study of my intended destination as it existed in the year 2022. I had also read a risk assessment study focused on time travel. Frankly, I was highly motivated by the generous payment that I would receive upon my return to the year 2075. Unfortunately, I had not allowed for circumstances to arise that would complicate my mission. That complication was my neighbor in 2022, Nathan.

The mission was fairly simple, to prevent a specific politician from boarding a flight out of Boston Logan International Airport. Apparently, the targeted politician was on a track to inspire riots and pointless bloodshed in the course of his intended travels. Chrono-Corp’s field agent handbook outlined various tactics that an agent could use to successfully accomplish such a mission. Chrono-Corp assured that there would be a device available in the past to allow me to return to 2075 upon completion of my mission. 

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Everything went smoothly on the day of my scheduled transport. The time-travel apparatus was inspected and found to be 100% ready for my mission. I dressed in clothing appropriate for the year 2022, stepped onto the transport pad and closed my eyes. The sounds of the machinery in the lab reached a crescendo and I was transported to 2022 in a split-second. 

Upon arrival, I opened my eyes and surveyed my surroundings. I was standing on a time-transport pad, and a fading green glow hung in the air around me. I determined that I was in some sort of crude metal shed. When the green glow faded, I opened the door and peeked outside. The shed was located in the backyard of an old two-story house of a residential neighborhood. It was late at night and I was exhausted, so I made my way into the house and fell into a deep sleep. 

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In the morning, I looked at the map that had been issued to me. I located a nearby grocery store and walked down to Massachusetts Avenue to purchase supplies. Although my mission schedule indicated that I would only be in the past for a short time, I would need provisions. 

Using the physical paper money that Chrono-Corp had provided, I purchased food and newspapers and walked back to my temporary home. As I neared the house, I noticed the man that lived next-door. He was sitting on his front porch, and he was obviously assessing his new neighbor — namely, me. 

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I stopped in front of his house and, hoping to curtail any further curiosity, I introduced myself. He told me that his name was Nathan. Following a brief chat, I excused myself, explaining that my groceries needed to be refrigerated. It seemed that my neighbor was the curious sort, and I hoped that his curiosity would not become a problem.

My unease intensified over the next few days as I realized that my neighbor seemed to have nothing better to do than watch my every movement. Whether I was coming or going, he was either watching me from the chair on his front porch, or peering out one of the windows that faced my house. I resolved to be cautious and refrain from doing anything the least bit suspicious. Still, it’s difficult to “act normal” when you’re a time-traveler on a mission.

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I performed an equipment check on the time-travel device in my backyard tool shed at 1:30 a.m. the morning of my assigned mission. I had upgraded a few components and ran a new electric line to the shed. When I finished, I crossed my fingers and switched the machine on. The equipment hummed to life, as expected, and the intensifying green glow around the transport pad indicated that everything was operating perfectly. Satisfied, I shut down the equipment, entered my house and went to bed. I slept fitfully, tossing and turning in anticipation of my impending mission.

I awakened early on the morning of my assignment and caught a cab to Logan Airport. I went directly to a seat in a waiting area with a clear view of the security screening line. When I saw my intended target, I simply approached a security officer and informed him that the man — my target — posed a danger to the flight, and that’s all it took. 

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I slipped away in the resulting commotion and the target passenger was pulled out of the line and taken into an adjoining room for questioning, which resulted in him missing the flight. Although I did not know exactly what would have happened if he had reached his destination, it did not matter to me. I had completed my assignment. I was relieved that nothing had gone wrong, and that history might be somehow changed for the better. I returned to my temporary home that afternoon without any trouble.

I slept well that night, but was awakened early the next morning by the sound of my doorbell. I opened the door and there stood my neighbor Nathan. I invited him into my house and we sat down in the living room. That was when he told me that he had seen the green light coming from my tool shed. He clearly wanted an explanation. I realized that it would be better to give him any explanation rather than have the local authorities ring my doorbell, so I told Nathan that I was experimenting with a time-travel device in my tool shed.

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He was aghast. I told him nothing about my assigned mission, and the sketchy information I did share seemed to mostly satisfy his curiosity in spite of its incredible nature. Besides, even if Nathan did speak to someone about what he had witnessed, no one would believe him. He returned to his home after our talk, clearly dumbfounded, and later that night I stepped onto the time-travel pad and successfully returned to my own time in 2075. It was the morning following my return to the future that I learned that my nosey neighbor had followed me through the time portal shortly after my departure. For some unknown reason his transport into the future had apparently disabled the machine’s auto-destruct program. At least he has someone he knows in the year 2075, I thought.

Historical documents revealed that my disappearance (and my neighbor’s disappearance) had both been mentioned in The Boston Globe newspaper that week. The article also noted that investigators had discovered some unusual equipment on one of the properties and the equipment had been seized by agents of the federal government. Perhaps that is how the initial design for the first time-travel device was discovered. Instead of the past affecting the future, the future may have affected the past. 

Stranger still, electronic records and post-mission interviews revealed the following:

1. The completion of my mission in 2022 only took three days, and I promptly returned to 2075 after my job was done.

2. My neighbor Alex was interviewed by Chrono-Corp following his arrival in 2075, and he was absolutely certain that I had been in the house next door for more than six months.

3. Strangest of all, Chrono-Corp’s time management equipment indicated that I had been in the past for one year and five months.

No one could say whether the time-scrambling was due to a glitch in Chrono-Corp’s equipment, or some sort of rift in time itself. Time will tell, I suppose.

Tags: #fiction #The Sopris Sun #Tom Mercer #Work in Progress
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