Futures Lost

By Alden Bates

The wooden door with Temporal Displacement Agency emblazoned across the frosted glass window swung open to admit a small, oddly-dressed man. He was trailed by a girl wearing late twentieth century clothing. She carried a battered cloth bag over one shoulder.

The man stopped short at the sight of the room's interior. It was decorated as if it was an early twentieth century detective agency, the sort which occasionally popped up in the holo-films, compete with an attractive young secretary behind a small wooden bench. The dark wooden top of the desk lacked a computer console and the telephone was an antiquated model. Only a hover-car which buzzed past the open blinds of the window reassured the Doctor that he was still in the early twenty-second century.

The secretary looked up as he entered and observed him looking around in bewilderment. ‘Do you like it, sir?’ she asked pleasantly. ‘Sort of nostalgic, don't you think?’

The Doctor frowned at her. ‘Do you run this place?’ he asked, his voice hard.

‘Do you have an appointment?’ she countered, pressing a section of desk top. A small square area of the desk rearranged itself into a computer terminal. A glowing square of holographic image opened in the air above it. The Doctor scanned the inverted letters.

The secretary glanced at the entry for the current time, and then looked at the clock. ‘It seems you have,’ she told him.

The Doctor was not surprised. Later he would go back in time and make that appointment. Instead he gestured to Ace to follow him, and vanished through the door placed just past the desk. This door also had a frosted glass window.

Behind the door was a small, neat office. To the left was yet another frosted-glass door from which a man with a suit and tie emerged. The Doctor noticed his appearance was out of place with the detective agency look which continued with a large wooden desk. A name plate on the desk announced the man as Travis Whitaker. The Doctor's glare followed Travis across the room.

Travis Whitaker seated himself behind the desk and smiled benignly across at the two people who had come to seek his help.

‘So, who can I find for you?’ he asked, picking up a steady-flo laser pen.

‘No-one,’ the Doctor replied. ‘We have come to ask if you know anything about time disturbances.’

Ace, who to this point had been in the dark as to their mission, started. ‘Here, Professor. You aren't starting on about that again? I thought the Time Lords promised to leave you alone.’

‘Quiet, Ace. This doesn't just affect the Time Lords. Now...’ He turned back to the startled Travis. ‘Perhaps you can tell me about what you've been doing here.’

‘Well,’ Travis started, quite bemused. ‘Basically we find people. People who have disappeared.’

‘Runaways, you mean?’ Ace interrupted.

‘No, people who have been scooped up by time warps and the such like. We look for mentions of someone who could be them in historical documents.’

The Doctor obviously knew that there was more to it than historical research. ‘And if they aren't in the documents?’

Travis hesitated. Then he stood up. ‘We use a special machine.’

The Doctor and Ace followed him through the next frosted-glass door. Behind door number two was a large room, mostly filled with apparatus. Prominent were a large flat screen and a small cubicle, consisting of a plexi-glass cylinder over a short platform. The cylinder was capped by a metal dome connected to the rest of the machinery with wires.

Travis manipulated the controls near the screen. The flat expanse filled with a quaint picture of ancient Rome. The Colusseum seemed to be in full swing with gladiatorial combat. However the sound was not supplied and the artistic grunts of pain could not be heard.

‘This is our other method of location. People pay us to locate lost ones where other searches have failed. I call it a Time Scanner.’

The Doctor looked suspiciously at the machine. ‘They've been known to implode before now.’

Travis looked surprised. ‘Oh, you've heard of Doctor Fendleman's work, then. Don't worry, they're perfectly safe nowadays.’

‘Of course,’ the Doctor replied. ‘That wouldn't cause that big a time disturbance.’

Travis looked uncomfortable. He motioned them over to the plexi-glass cylinder. ‘This scoops the located person back to our own time, safe and sound.’

The Doctor turned on him. ‘Don't you realise that such actions can destroy the time web utterly? Ace, get down from there.’

The Doctor had thought better of Ace than to do something so stupid as to stand inside a time scoop. He lunged forward to pull her out. The plexi-glass door snapped shut.

Travis continued to manipulate controls. The man from the World Government on Earth had thrown him completely for a few moments, until he had realised what was happening - an investigation. But now he had the Government agent and his rather untidy subordinate trapped in his time scoop. Behind him, the glass cylinder magically became empty.

The Doctor and Ace rematerialised in the midst of the combat on the flat-screen monitor.

Travis watched in amusement as the subordinate whipped a couple of deodorant cans from her bag. The Government official motioned her back and his mouth moved in silent speech to the gladiators while he fumbled beneath his coat. His hand finally reappeared with a small box-shaped device, which he activated.

The gladiators scattered at an unheard noise. A tall blue box solidified before the two Government agents. They both piled in and the box faded.

Travis watched in amazement as the box totally faded, leaving a bunch of stunned gladiators to restart the battle.

Moments later, drastic action had been taken on the part of the Time Lords.

The time scoop had never been developed and Travis Whitaker was employed in computer investigation. He was employed for one of Earth's giant corporations and supported a small family.

Meanwhile, in ancient Rome, a number of gladiators fled the Colusseum.

This item appeared in Timestreams 4 (April 1992).

Index nodes: Fiction