Fiction Fragment Friday

Welcome to 2024 and a rededication to weekly flash fiction. I am examining my priorities and projects at the moment and hope to make 2024 be a strong year of writing and moving forward.

This week’s story comes from an idea of two characters meeting and having a very specific conversation. I had a few ideas about where to take the story, but as usual I let it guide me to where it wanted to go.

               I was walking down the canned vegetable aisle lost in my own thoughts.  Due to national shortages, they were out of peas and unfortunately, they were the only green vegetable that my daughter was willing to eat.  Why couldn’t there be a shortage of Brussel sprouts instead?  Nobody in my house would care about never seeing Brussel sprouts again.  I put a short can of lima beans into the cart just hoping I could get her to at least try them.  She liked butter beans so I hoped that maybe I could convince her that they were smaller green versions.  With my complete focus on groceries, I found myself jumping at a voice suddenly right behind me. 

               “Sorry it took so long Jake, but we did finally find you.”  I spun around to see my old friend Justin standing in the aisle holding glancing down at what appeared to be a cell phone.  I say appeared because I knew for a fact that wasn’t what it was.  The device in his hands was an extremely advanced computer complete with an artificial intelligence capable of answering just about any request for information you might ask of it.  It would not be unfair to say that it was as far advanced over modern cell phones as they were over the computers used to send man to the moon. 

               “How did you find me?” I ask because I really have no idea.  I thought I had covered my trail well enough. 

               “Well, we knew the location of your navigator’s last check-in to that gave us a place to start.  Then we looked for anomalies, but they only started to ripple enough to notice here and now.  We have been searching this town for two weeks hoping to find you.”

               I was trying to hold back the concern and decide what to do next when something caught my eye.  There behind Justin on the wrong shelf hidden behind the mixed vegetables was a single can of peas.  I was so excited that I forgot what we were talking about for a moment.  “Justin do me a favor and grab that can of peas there.”  I point to the shelf.  “Jessie is going to be so happy it’s been weeks since I’ve found any.”

               He grabs the can and tosses it to me.  I’m not as fast as I used to be and fumble it a bit almost dropping the can.  This is too important though, so I manage to recover and put it in the cart.  “Jessie?  Who’s Jessie?”   

               “My daughter.”  Telling him this could be dangerous, and I try to read his face as I say it.  I want some clue about what he is thinking. 

               “You have a daughter?”  He looks shocked and his voice gets louder as he speaks.  “Do you have any idea how many regulations you violated?  What were you thinking?”

               “Of course, I know how many regulations I violated.  I wrote half of them.  I know better than anyone the risks, but you know what?  I’m here and it happened.  This is my life now so please keep your voice down.  People are starting to look.”

               “How did you let this happen?  How did you get stranded here to begin with?”  Thankfully he had lowered his voice. 

               “I wasn’t stranded.  I fell in love and decided to stay here.  I set the Navigator to self-destruct after setting off false signals and mailing it to India.  I thought that would be enough to keep you all off my trail.  I’ve done everything I can to avoid making waves here hoping it wouldn’t cause ripples.”

               “You created a life for yourself two hundred years in the past and didn’t think it would create enough changes to track?  I suppose you did manage to keep the ripples minimized for ten years so that is impressive.  Something you did about three years ago though slipped up.  The ripples seem to have started around then.”

               “Jessie.  I should have known.  A new life that didn’t exist in the old timeline.  Of course, that would create ripples.”  I feel extremely stupid.  I had been so careful until then.  In my overwhelming joy of becoming a father and my complacency of staying off the radar for so long I didn’t even consider the ramifications. 

               “You know we can’t let this stand.  Unfortunately, now we know, and we only know because it happened.  It was already going to be difficult bringing you home, but now the paradox this causes is going to destabilize spacetime in this whole decade.”

               “This is my home and I’m not going anywhere.”  I stand there defiant.  “If our friendship ever meant anything to you just walk away and say you never found me.”

               “You know I can’t do that jake.”

               “And I can’t let you erase my daughter.”  We just stand there in the aisle facing each other.  Neither of us knows what to say and I think we are both hesitant to make the first move.  I want to think it is because of our past, but I suspect we both just don’t want to screw up our next move.  It is too important. 

               “Look I need to get approval for a paradox of this magnitude anyway.  I’ll just head back to base to report in and let someone with a higher paygrade decide what to do next.”

               “I can’t let you do that either.”

               “Come on Jake you must know this is your own fault.  Maybe if you agree to come help me drag the younger you back to our time, they will give him lenience.”

               “I won’t let you erase my daughter.”  I try to put all my strength of will into those words.  My hands are gripping the cart handle so hard that my knuckles go white.  He went to type into his Navigator, and I knew I was out of time.  I shoved the cart forward and smashed it into his stomach.  Justin let out a grunt and doubled over the cart dropping the Navigator into it.  Seeing my chance, I grabbed it and ran.

               Glancing back, I could see Justin gasping for breath and trying to recover.  He yelled after me, “Don’t make this harder than it has to be.  You can’t win.”         

               I know that he might be right, but if you have ever looked into the eyes of your newborn child, you know that a parent would do anything for them.  Even defy an organization of time traveling police.  “Navigators close all connections to the future.  Authorization Delta Omega India Tango.”  Yes, that spells out the words do it.  I had put that in as a backdoor into all the Navigators.  Helping to set up the program gave me a lot of access in those early days. 

               “Orders acknowledged and completed Mr. Miller.  All outgoing communications have been terminated.”  I had not heard the voice of a Navigator in ten years, but it was just as I remembered.

               “Navigator, show me the earliest research that led to the creation of the Temporal Intervention Commission.  Focus on anything build on discoveries made in the 2020s.”  The screen started to scroll through data.  Even once I go to my car, I couldn’t spare the time to read it just yet.  Once I was somewhere safe then I could start making plans.  I knew what I had to do to protect my daughter even if it did cause a huge paradox around both of us.  My former employers couldn’t erase my daughter if they didn’t exist to do so.  Of course, I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t, but I was here so as I said one really big paradox.  What would I do for my daughter?  I would risk the very fabric of reality because she was my reality, and I wasn’t about to live without her.