Dr Feliza Mbongo hadn't been back to work long. Just a week before was the Forwarding Ceremony for her daughter, Hannah. She still thought back to it often.
The family tried to make it as normal as they could, but it was hard. Mbongo took her wife and daughter out to ice cream. She wasn't supposed to eat for at least 12 hours before, they were told, though nobody was entirely sure why. The good Dr had researched the literature and determined there was no real good reason. But the safe/sorry equation indicated that it would be best to endure a small window of discomfort while the patient waited to be shipped off to the future.
Hannah had progeria. Stem-cell and other treatments had slowed the disease, but the 7 year old still looked like 70. Her doctors said they couldn't do anything; in a year, maybe two, she'd be dead. They recommended the Forwarding Center because there was nothing they could do. Feliza did her own research. Painfully thoroughly. And she only came to the same conclusion.
The morning of the ceremony, the family crowded into the sedan of Hannah's biological dad, plugged in the address, and rode to the Forwarding Center.
At the center, past the pro-death protesters that lined the street, sat a building made of steel and glass and even the lawn was cleaner than even the hospital Mbongo worked in. After they parked and walked in, they were immediately ushered into a waiting area by a very polite woman with a severe haircut. She offered them coffee or a OTC strength Xanax. They declined everything and sat there and looked at magazines on a table but did not pick them up. The glossy covers changed every 10 to 15 seconds to a picture of someone that was really famous last year.
After a short wait, the receptionist collected them. They followed her down a large and cold hallway toward the Forwarding Antechamber. Feliza almost laughed at the sign on the door and felt the urge to crack some joke about naming rooms by committee. She thought better of it, however.
The receptionist opened the door and held it as they entered the room.
"Your tech will be here shortly," she said while leaving and let the door close quietly behind her.
They looked around the room filled with clean lines, steel, and white lights. There was, also, on all other sides of the room behind floor to ceiling glass, the Forwarding Chamber.
"Is that where..." Hannah asked Feliza and she nodded in response.
The Forwarding Chamber contained all the equipment for time travel. They all looked on and got lost , for a moment, in the sheer scale of it all.
The antechamber jutted into the larger Forwarding Chamber like a pier. Above, miles and miles of mirrors and wires and lasers signaled and communicated, all aligned just so. Below sat a massive black slab of secret origin. A platform hung from the ceiling, the cables and extending out into blackness and getting lost in the maze. A bridge had extended between the platform and a door they could also see. Feliza saw the small chair on the platform: kid sized. She no longer felt like making jokes. Her heart felt heavy in her chest. Tucked into a corner of the Antechamber was a small bed, more like a crib.
The technician ("Time Artist", his nametag said) walked in and introduced himself. He held some kind of tablet computer. He tapped and swiped at it, then he looked at Feliza. She noticed he had one brown and one blue eye.
"Can she stand on the scale, please?"
The child walked to the scale, and the display lit up with more significant digits than Feliza ever used in her practice. The technician didn’t type them in--too many chances for error. He tapped a button and the weight synced with the computer. He still double-checked, anyway.
"It is time."
They hugged. They held their tears as best they could. Hannah smiled and told each of them, Mbongo, her other mom, her bio-dad, that she loved them. That she hoped to get their letters in the future, to get their videos and their life lessons and memories of their own childhoods. She wanted their love from across the distance of hundreds of years; she promised they would live on in the future in her memory. She carried more burden than a child should bare, but she held it.
The technician walked with her out of the room. A few moments later, they could all see the in the Forwarding Chamber itself open. The two of them walked the bridge onto the platform. For something held in place by a few strands of black cable, it did not move much. He sat her down, knelt down, and said something to her. She nodded. Then the technician walked back across the bridge, closed the door, pressed a button. They heard a motor start below them and they watched the bridge retract under the door to the chamber.
"Are you ready?" the tech asked a moment later. Nobody even heard him come in.
The adults all nodded. They looked out at the little girl, Hannah, who they had raised for not long enough, as she waved and mouthed the words "I love you."
Then a green flash. Then nothing. She was gone.
"Doctor?" Feliza shook her head, coming out of her memories and coming back to the hospital she worked at. "Doctor?" It was some intern. James, maybe?
"We have a problem," James said.
"What is it?"
"You'll have to see."
James walked quickly through the hall. Feliza followed closely to the ER.
"James, what is it?" She asked.
"We found this guy in the lot. He just appeared out of nowhere, but he’s got some weird symptoms."
When then they reached the ER, she saw it. More appropriately, she saw him in a wheelchair and hunched over and crying. "I'm from the future. I can prove it. Tomorrow Alistade wins the election in Bhutan. And then someone will shoot him with a .38 caliber bullet, which will enter his liver. I have a message. For the Forwarding Centers. They have to stop."
This was nothing new. The protesters had grown more desparate as more people elected to be shipped off to the distant future in hopes that their diseases would be cured. The employees had pseudonyms printed on the name tags.
Feliza walked up to him, most ignored his sobs. Old crazy lived everywhere.
"Why are you here?" Feliza said. She looked at him and thought there something familiar about him.
"I am from the future."
"Sure you are," her sarcasm a mask for what she already knew. She knew him. Where?
"No. You have to listen. They have to stop because," he sucked in some air. "They have to stop because the earth moved. An encounter with a interstellar cloud slowed our procession. We hit it in about 90 years.." A long pause here. Was it the timbre of his voice? A few breaths. "The centers...they have been sending patients," cough, "to space where the earth is not. They have to stop and adjust their calculations. I can help." Another breath. She recognized the voice. It was the technician. Pretty sure. Her smile faltered. "I have the coordinates, but I don’t have time. My atoms are are evaporating. Black body radiation is..." He was slowing down. "A side effect of reverse time travel. We could fix it, but...not now. Bring me to them. Please." His begged weakly.
He looked up at Feliza, one brown and one blue eye. "You believe me, don’t you?"
The last remains of the smirk drained from her face. She did know him. "Are you the one who sent Hannah?"
His eyes watered. "Yes," he said. "I’m sorry."
The doctor developed tremors.
"Where is she?" Feliza yelled. She grabbed the man by the shoulders. "Where did you send my daughter?" She shook him.
"I don't know."
"Where is she?"
"I don't know," he said, but she didn't believe him. She didn't believe Hannah floated somewhere far from Earth, far in the future, tumbling around forever in the vacuum of space.
"I'm so sorry," he said again and again, but she kept shaking and yelling and screaming until others pulled her off the technician and she collapsed on the floor, crying.