NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest 2020 – Ch1 Submission – Won 3rd Place in my Group
Requirements: Science Fiction/A Clothes Shop/A Name Badge
Synopsis: After identifying bullying, or Oppressor Tyrant Syndrome (OTS) as the biggest societal problem on earth, scientists have developed a vaccine, but in order to truly save the world, Down Trippers must secretly travel back in time and inoculate infants throughout history.
I suffer from a superiority complex. It makes me good at my job but keeps me short on friends. Fine by me. As a Down Tripper, I spend most of my time traveling to the past anyway—a place for which my precious few friends don’t have the requisite travel credentials, and couldn’t handle the rigors, regardless. Happy side benefit: today I turn sixty-five, but don’t look a day over thirty.
As I hover through town on my way to Past Presents (the vintage clothing store where I work…Insider Tip #1: it’s a cover—built around the time portal—you’ll see), I practice being interviewed for a documentary of my life. A film that, sadly, can never be made.
In medical school, I heard about the study by top-ranking Sociobiologists, identifying bullying as society’s biggest problem, and knew I’d be integral to the project. To be politically correct, I should say Oppressor Tyrant Syndrome, or OTS. But a bully is a bully.
With the advent of the LX3 Vaccine, Phase I began. When administered soon after birth it eliminates bullying traits in ninety percent of the population. Thirty years in, we see greater societal empathy and fewer wars. Homelessness is non-existent, poverty is on the decline, and healthcare is abundant and free for everyone.
Phase II has been even more impressive. Down Trippers go back in time and inoculate infants born through history. We’ve stopped genocides, famines, and pollution by preventing bullies from growing into tyrants.
My craft lands outside Past Presents. I disembark and I let myself into the building. The musty, familiar scent of old clothing conjures happy childhood afternoons playing dress-up in grandmother’s attic. Decades old music streams from hidden speakers, completing the vintage vibe. A truly ingenious cover for our important work.
“Good morning, Miss Gunther.”
“Good morning,” I reply.
Lisa, my personal AI, always greets me at the door. So annoying. There’s no good reason we should converse. In my opinion, they programmed her too highly-strung, but she gets the job done. She runs the shop and monitors my vitals and fluids while I travel (Insider Tip #2: time travelers wear diapers…at least the smart ones do). My idea. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Eager to learn where today will take me, I walk straight to the dressing room. In the portal, I pull my name tag from my pocket and hold it near my chest. The magnet beneath my skin snaps the tag in place with a click and a screen appears (Insider Tip #3: the tag only works inside the portal, so don’t get any ideas).
Through the mirror, I read today’s assignment: New York City, Nineteen Forty-Six. Yes! Today I will inoculate a future world leader. I take a deep breath and click my heels together three times.
I try again.
I stick my head out the curtain to call for Lisa, but she’s standing right there. “There seems to be a problem.”
“The problem is biological, Marta.” The deep voice comes from around the corner.
“Adam, is that you?” Why is my boss here?
“Yes. Please join me.”
Lisa lets me pass, grinning like a twelve-year old with a secret. “Adam, I’m anxious to get going. Today’s assignment is a big—.”
“Surprise!” Adam throws confetti in my face. Several co-workers surround him.
Shana, my protégé, steps forward. I’m blinded by the burning candles on the cake she pushes toward me. “Happy Birthday and Retirement!” Her face beams.
Everyone sings the silly song to which we wash our hands.
With my mouth agape, my eyes bounce from the cake to Adam, to every person standing between the rows of clothing. All staring at me. “I…I…” I had hoped my birthday would go unnoticed, and I certainly have no intentions of retiring.
Adam drapes his arm around my shoulder. “You didn’t think we’d forget such a momentous occasion, did you? Blow out your candles.” He leans in and whispers, “Don’t make a scene. Meet me in the portal in five.”
I blow out the ridiculous candles and paste on a smile. Someone hands me a glass of champagne. Suddenly the music is loud and everyone is talking. People are everywhere. There are balloons and a table with gifts. A sharp pain niggles behind my right eye.
Someone cuts the cake. I stuff my slice on a shelf between a pair of ancient cowboy boots and a designer handbag, then make my way to the portal.
Inside, Adam raises his hands. “Don’t shoot the messenger. I didn’t make the rules.”
He throws me a side eye. “If ever there was a Down Tripper who would have read the entire hiring agreement, it would be you, Marta.”
He references Section IV, Paragraph 5(b)1: Mandatory Retirement Age. “But I don’t feel or look my age and can still do the job better than anyone.”
“The rule is for your protection.”
“No. The rule is for your protection,” I argue. “How much is the insurance coverage? I’ll pay it myself.”
“I have to be the one to inoculate him. It will only take a few minutes. Please let me go.”
“Shana has already gone. Your badge is deactivated.” There is sadness in his blue-gray eyes.
My heart is broken.
He pulls a small box from his pocket. “From the team.”
A gold watch with the official seal of the Down Trippers. Its hefty weight provides little comfort. I want to scream and yell and fight. Fight for the elderly. Fight for one last job. Fight against age discrimination.
Instead, just in case that documentary ever gets made, I take a deep breath and smile. “Thank you.”
Because that’s what The World’s Greatest Down Tripper would do.