Martin Fields, time traveler in training, was finally given his first solo assignment.
Normally on Sundays, he stayed in his apartment, forgot about showering, dressed in his most grubby clothes, and tried out a new recipe for dinner.
Martin loved to cook and he loved to try out new foods. He was in his “Middle-Eastern food” stage now. But this Sunday, he figured the stove and the oven would go neglected. He had a solo time travel assignment, and Isis wouldn’t be around to bug him.
Of course, she wouldn’t be around to save his ass either, and this was a potentially dangerous mission. Interestingly enough, he wouldn’t be going anywhere at all…geographically. He would however, be going backward in time nearly 41 years in his own apartment. Of course it wasn’t his back then. He hadn’t even been born yet and the apartment building was brand new.
This was the first time Isis trusted him to set the controls on the Temporal Jump Suit. Destination, Monday, July 12, 1976 at 7:03 a.m. He didn’t know why he couldn’t arrive five minutes earlier or five minutes later, but the mission parameters said to arrive exactly at this date and time.
He wore the appropriate costume for the period under the suit, powered the unit up, picked up the suit’s storage case, and then he was there, still at home.
“It must still be for rent.” That was Martin’s first impression when he materialized and saw the place was unfurnished. The walls were a different color, different window treatments. The kitchen appliances must have been replaced at some point, because these weren’t in his place in the present.
Martin removed the suit and placed it in it’s carrying case, which today looked like a piece of Samsonite luggage. He stored it in the bedroom closet and then reached into his pants pocket and the promised car keys were there, just like the wallet containing cash, a California State drivers license, and a Cal State Fullerton student ID card.
As he took the elevator down from the third floor to the garage, Martin started to get nervous. The assignment was relatively simple. Go to the Cal State campus library, find a student named Cindi Kim who was volunteering there this morning, and make any excuse to get her out of the first floor lobby and up to the second floor before 8:30 a.m.
Martin had gotten, or rather, would get his degree at the same university, but not until 2014.
He found the 1975 red Chevy Chevelle in the parking space for his apartment, and when he got in, he saw the student parking pass hanging from the rear view mirror.
Traffic was murder and he didn’t get to campus until just before eight. Then he had to drive around the parking lot looking for an empty space at prime time for students to be in class. He eventually found one, but he had to run almost all the way to the library.
Cal State was smaller, a lot smaller than it was when he went, or rather, would go here, but Pollack Library was still in the same place. He stopped running a little before he got there so he wouldn’t be out of breath. He couldn’t give the impression anything was wrong.
At the front desk he asked about Cindi and couldn’t believe his luck.
“That’s me. How can I help you?”
She was about nineteen or twenty, maybe five foot two, Korean-American, a winning smile. Martin was momentarily tempted to ask her out on a date. Then he remembered that when he woke up this morning, she would have been somewhere in her early 60s.
“Hi, I’m a graduate student and was told you could let me back in the library special collections archive. I’m doing a paper on science fiction writer Philip K. Dick and need to review his original manuscripts.”
Martin hoped his charm would win her easy cooperation. He hadn’t dated in over six-months, mainly because he couldn’t figure out what to tell a woman when she asked what he did for a living.
“I’m really not supposed to leave the front desk. I can call someone who can help.”
“If it’s okay, I’d rather have it be you.”
That was going to come off completely charming or super creepy. She smiled but it was an uncertain smile. Somehow, he had to get her out of here and he only had a few minutes left to do it.
“Cindi, go ahead and help the young man. I’m back from my break.” Both Martin and Cindi turned toward the woman speaking. She was one of the full-time librarians, so technically, Cindi’s boss. Cindi opened her mouth to reply, but Martin beat her to it.
“Thanks. I appreciate it.”
Cindi stepped out from behind the front desk. “Come with me…”
“…Martin. My name’s Martin.”
“Right this way, please.” They walked out of the lobby and took an elevator up to the second floor where the special collections were kept. They turned away from the main stacks and down a hallway.
“Why did you ask for me? Did Carla put you up to this? Is it some sort of gag?”
“My roommate. Look, you seem like a nice enough guy, but I’m getting a little tired of her always trying to set me up with guys.”
The sound of running footsteps coming from the stairwell. A guy, a student bursts into the hall in a panic. “Don’t go back down there. There’s a crazy guy in the lobby shooting people with a rifle!”
Cindi ran to the nearest wall mounted phone, dialed 9 and then 911. Martin could hear what sounded like firecrackers faintly drift up the stairwell. It was just past 8:30 a.m.
Martin had done it, he’d saved her life. But why? Why wasn’t he sent to stop the gunman? Why save just one life?
Cindi got off the phone. “The cops are on their way. We need to hide in case the person comes up here.
Martin knew 37-year-old Edward Allaway, the library’s custodian, wouldn’t come up here. He knew Allaway would kill seven people and injure two others in the first-floor lobby and in the Instructional Media Center in the basement. He knew Allaway would leave and go to the hotel where his ex-wife worked in Anaheim, call the police and confess. He knew Allaway would be diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, and that the motivation for the shootings was that he thought pornographers were forcing his wife to appear in their movies.
“Wait. What about everyone else up here? We can’t hide and not warn them.” Martin was playing his part as the good guy knowing that they were in no immediate danger.
“You’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
The other kid said, “Hiding sounds good to me right now.” He proceeded down the hall, even though he wouldn’t be able to get into the locked archives.
Cindi and Martin informed everyone on the second floor what was happening and managed to keep them from panicking, particularly by telling them the police were on their way.
The rest went as he expected. The police and paramedics arrived after Allaway left. Police officers interviewed everyone present, including Martin, which was the reason he needed his phony ID. It showed he lived at his actual address in the future, but if they ever followed up on that here and now, he’d be gone, and they’d have a mystery and no answers.
He was sure Cindi would understand his sudden loss of interest in Philip K. Dick’s manuscripts. After the cops were through with them, she found him in the lobby about to leave.
“I know you didn’t mean to, but thanks for saving my life. If I’d been at the front desk instead of…instead of…”
The librarian who had taken over for Cindi had been shot twice in the chest. She died instantly.
“It’s okay. You’re alive and you’re safe.” He gently took her by the shoulders. “You should go home. You’ve been through a lot.”
“Rain check on special collections?” It was a weak joke. She tried to smile and sob at the same time. Maybe it was her way of showing gratitude, although from her point of view, she couldn’t possibly know that Martin had deliberately saved her life.
“Sure. Rain check.”
“Carla’s going to pick me up and take me home.” Not sure when I’ll be back here, if I’ll be back here.”
“Just be safe, Cindi.”
He looked at his watch. “I’ve got to go.”
She regarded him expectantly, as if she wanted him to stay, or maybe to ask for her phone number or something. Emotional trauma can express itself in strange ways. He wouldn’t think she’d want him to show interest in her at a time like this, but then, Martin didn’t know everything.
“Okay. See you.”
“Bye.” He turned and started for the library’s main doors again thinking, “No, you’ll never see me again.”
It was late afternoon by the time he got back to his unoccupied apartment. There were two keys on the ring he was given, one for the car, which would soon be reported stolen, and the other for the apartment. Since he wouldn’t be born until the early 1990s, leaving his fingerprints behind in the stolen car meant nothing, but he did take the Cal State parking pass with him.
The carrying case was right where he left it. He put on the suit, powered it up, set the time coordinates for his apartment ten seconds after he left, picked up the case, and then vanished.
Isis had told him everything about the mission except why. Sometimes she explained and sometimes she didn’t. This was one of those times she didn’t, and Martin supposed there was a good reason.
He tried to Google Cindi Kim, Cynthia Kim, and other variations, but there must have been hundreds of them, even when filtering by her probable age. Of course, she could be going by a married name, she could have died in the past forty some years, or anything else.
“Well, Cindi. I guess I’ll never know what happened to you.” Martin closed the lid of his Macbook. He still had time to try out that new recipe for Kofta.
Martin would never know that he hadn’t been sent back in time to save Cindi’s life, although her living when she originally died wouldn’t have a lasting effect on history. Martin was sent back to make sure someone else died in her place, the other librarian who, if she had lived, would have been responsible for forming the largest child pornography ring in California history, resulting in the sexual exploitation of hundreds of children between the ages of 6 months and 11 years.
Now all of them would be safe, and some of them would grow up to make a real difference in the world.
Cindi Kim, on the other hand, after getting over the mysterious disappearance of the man she only knew as Martin, would marry just after graduation, get her real estate license, have four children, and nine grandchildren, and just as Martin was sitting down to a solitary dinner, Cindi was having a family reunion in her native Modesto, happily looking forward to retirement.
In a lot of time travel stories, including many of mine, the motivation is to go back in time and save someone’s life. In this case, grim as it might seem, Martin was sent back to make sure someone was killed. Saving Cindi Kim’s life was just a happy effect (for Cindi).
Since the theme was the time traveler staying home, I decided he could stay geographically, but not temporally. I played fast and loose with the details of the Cal State Fullerton campus, since I have no idea what it looked like in 1976 or in 2014, though I did get my Master’s degree there in 1985.
I picked 1976 more or less at random, then looked in Wikipedia until I found an event that could reasonably be centered near where Martin lives (which I’ve now narrowed down to Southern California). The rest just sort of fell together.
I deliberately left out the real names of the victims because I’m casting one of them in a terrible role and I do not want to injure or offend any of their surviving loved ones.
I don’t know about 1976, but in the present, the Pollack Library really does have a Science Fiction Special Collection that includes original manuscripts written by Philip K. Dick and Frank Herbert.
Lastly, I gave Martin my wife’s and daughter’s love for cooking and trying new recipes, including Middle Eastern Food.
The next story in the series is On Monday the Time Traveler Took Off.