The Party - A Short Story
We've decided we should put our money where our mouths are, so Jesse has written a short time-travel story. We hope you enjoy it!
RECORDED TOMORROW PRESENTS
by Jesse Ferguson
Alex notes the time and takes a champagne flute from the tray, giving the server a wink as she does. 7:46PM. The server smiles in return and Alex doesn’t mind that she's patronizing her, she's in entirely too good a mood.
Because it’s going to work.
“Hey, Alex!” Martin, the host, waves at her as he makes his way across the room. Alex has spent six years, two months and nine days working her way up the ladder in Martin's company, getting close enough to him to earn an invitation to this party. This is where she'll make it all happen.
Right now, somewhere in Seattle, there’s another version of Alex - a younger version, still using her real name - hard at work boosting cars, breaking into houses and shitty office parks in the industrial district. In four months and twelve days, that version of her will be arrested on felony burglary charges, just nine days after she turns eighteen. Her court-appointed lawyer will be too busy with a hundred other cases to put much effort into helping a poor kid everybody knows is guilty. She'll be convicted after just three days, and sentenced to ten years in prison. She’ll never be able to vote.
“Enjoying the party?” Martin's made it over to her now. He's wearing a tan suit and a slightly worried expression. “The band just got here, they’re setting up now,” he sighs, “I should have hired a DJ...”
“Relax. I’m sure they'll be worth the wait,” Alex says. Why not give him something to be happy about? It won't last. Alex almost feels bad about that. “And it doesn’t matter. We’re not here for the band. We’re here for you. Well, you and your new trinket."
“I can't wait for you to see it, Ms. Wells,” he says as he puts a hand on her shoulder, friendly and casual, but without coming off as creepy, like a lot of men in their fifties would. Damn it, now she does feel bad. She likes Martin, and he doesn’t really deserve what’s going to happen.
Seven months, fifteen days from now, that younger Alex-with-her-real-name will find a hidden cache in her cell. Inside, there will be a stack of newspapers and a locked box. The top newspaper will be dated a day after she finds the cache, the next one a week after that. She'll compare it to the papers delivered to the prison on those days, and they'll line up perfectly.
On the far end of this room, there’s a locked door. Beyond that, some number of other security measures unknown to Alex--for now-- then vault with a three-thousand-year-old clay statue sealed inside it. The statue was recently excavated from Nigeria and it’s worth around sixteen million dollars. Martin acquired it through what he likes to call "back channels," which Alex assumes is richspeak for "he exploited his wealth and influence to plunder it from the culture to which it belongs." On second thought, maybe he does deserve it.
“I’m impressed you’ve been able to keep the statue secure,” she says, with just a little bit of awe in her voice. Martin may be a kind man, but also a rich man, and a little ego-stroking goes a long way. “How did you manage it? A piece this old, this rare, thieves must be lining up to take a crack at it.”
Seven months, twenty-two days from now, after the second newspaper from her cache matches the one delivered that day, her younger self will start looking through the rest of the papers. The third one will be dated a week from today, and it’ll be folded open to a story with the headline RARE NIGERIAN STATUE STOLEN OUT OF THIN AIR. The article will be circled in felt marker, along with the words THIS WAS YOU, written in her own handwriting.
“Well, that’s the secret,” Martin’s eyes twinkle with mischief. “One of the advantages of using ‘back channels’ is that there aren’t a lot of records. So nobody knows exactly what I have, except the lovely people at this party. Most of the real security is at the gallery.”
Alex has to fight to maintain her composure. “Wait, you’re saying there’s no security on the statue right now?” She’s a little shocked that she managed to get the question out without her voice faltering.
Martin laughs, “Oh, my dear, of course there’s security on the statue! It’s in a vault with three-foot thick walls, and I’m the only person who knows the combination. It’s being monitored continuously via closed-circuit camera, and I opened the vault and checked on it personally, just before you arrived.”
Seven months, twenty-three days from now, younger Alex will reach the bottom of her hidden stack of newspapers. There will be a dozen of them, each folded open to an article describing an unbelievable theft. Each will be circled, with something to the effect of THIS WAS YOU scrawled on the paper. In every case, the handwriting will be hers. At the bottom of the stack of papers, there will be a key to the lockbox, and inside that will be a device that allows her to travel through time.
Alex has to sit down. Martin moves on and starts mingling with other guests. The band has just started, they’re playing an old Leonard Cohen number. Alex hasn’t heard this song since ten years from now. She didn’t really like it then, but the irony of the situation is too much, so she laughs, leans back on the couch, and enjoys the music.
Starting in seven months and twenty-four days, young Alex will spend several months figuring out how to use her time-travel device. Over those months, she’ll learn that the portals it generates are rooted in place geographically, but that she has fine control over them temporally. She’ll be startled by slightly older versions of herself, and then a few days later, she’ll travel back and startle slightly younger versions of herself in turn. She’ll even use it to escape, first travelling sixty years into the past - before the prison was built - then back to the present after she’s moved outside where the walls would be. But then she’ll remember that some of these thefts will take place during her incarceration, and decide that the best alibi is already being in prison, so she’ll go back to a moment after she left. Prison will be a lot easier to bear once she knows she can literally leave any time she wants.
Alex mingles with other people. She’s not really listening, but she’s paying just enough attention that she’ll be able to recall a key detail or two from each conversation later. It’s important to be seen, heard, and recognized by as many people as possible. After all this, there will be interviews and statements, but there can be no question where she was tonight. Every minute must be accounted for.
Eleven months, nineteen days from now, her younger self will start researching Martin’s company, and building an identity for herself. Being able to spend a few weeks outside to make arrangements and payments, then be back in her cell before anyone notices she left will prove immensely useful. She’ll build credentials, skills, fake references and work history, everything. Alex Wells, this Alex, will be born.
She notices Martin starting to make his way up to the stage, and positions herself at the door. She needs to be right next to him when he opens the safe.
“Everyone, everyone!” He says into a microphone, “Thank you so much for coming. I’m really excited to show you all this piece. I don’t know if I’ve told all of you how I came to acquire it…” Alex notes the time as his speech goes on. 9:13PM. Eighty-seven minutes. Her heart is racing, and she’s starting to sweat. Eighty-seven minutes isn’t much time...
Calm DOWN… she thinks as she takes a deep breath. This is going to work. She knows it’s going to work, because it’s already worked. But Alex can’t stop the nerves as Martin makes his way over to the door where she’s standing.
Eight years, nine months, and eleven days from now, younger Alex will be released from prison, earning early parole for good behavior. By this point she’ll have researched all the heists in all the newspapers in her cache, and created identities for each of them. She’ll check in with her parole officer, make a few last-minute arrangements, then open a portal and step into six years, three months and three days ago.
Martin is unlocking the door now. Alex is looking at him, her face as excited as his, though for very different reasons. He opens it, and the whole group head toward the vault: Martin first, Alex right beside him, and a dozen or so other party-goers behind them. She spots the cameras, one in each corner of the hallway. No blind spots. Shit, that’ll be tricky.
Six years, two months and nine days ago, Alex started her first day of employment at Martin’s company. She’d impressed him and his hiring managers in her interviews, and was eager to be a part of the work they were doing. Five years, four months and thirteen days ago, she got promoted. Then again four years and nine days ago. Two years, two months and five days ago, she accepted a position directly under Martin himself. She gracefully inserted herself into his group of “work friends,” and made sure she was always in his social circles. Seven months ago, right after the statue had been discovered and Martin had decided he wanted it, but before he told anyone that, Alex had let it slip that she’d always loved ancient Nigeria, and especially their art. Thirty-six days ago, Martin invited Alex to this party.
Now, at the vault, she squeezes his shoulder, her smile a dark mirror of his own, and watches as he keys in the combination: 7-4-8-2-9-6-1-6-7-9. She memorizes it. He opens the vault door, and everyone gasps.
The vault is empty.
There are no signs of forced entry. No alarms went off. Everyone is rushed back out of the hallway as Martin calls the police, then his security company. Alex has never heard him scream at another person like this.
Two hours and twelve minutes ago, Alex opened a storage locker she’d rented three months earlier. There was part of a couch and several boxes of random stuff in here--mostly to keep up appearances-- but tucked back in the corner was a wooden crate. She pried off the lid and marveled at the perfect, priceless, ancient Nigerian statue. She saw the papers with expert signatures, verifying the statue’s origin, age, and authenticity. She had to hold in a shriek of joy as she resealed the box and locked the storage unit back up. All her hard work, all her research, everything she’d put into this project was going to pay off.
“Thank you, Ms. Wells,” The officer says to her after he’s taken Alex’s statement. He moves onto the next guest, and she finds Martin.
“I’m so sorry, Martin,” she says as she gives him a hug. “I just can’t believe it.”
“I just-” Martin is frothing with anger and embarrassment, but he puts on a calm face for Alex. “I just saw it. I just looked at the damn thing not two hours ago! I don’t understand how this guy even knew it was here, much less how he got past us in the party. Nevermind how he knew the combination! I tell you, it had to be someone on my security team.”
“I hope you find him, whoever he is,” she says, then bids him goodnight and heads to her car.
The whole drive home she can’t help grinning. She’s got almost everything she needs: The window of opportunity, the exact location and combination of the vault, and a perfect alibi. She still needs to figure out how to get past the cameras, but she knows she will.
She’s got all the time in the world.
It is Free