Forward, Ever Forward
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 day before they sent her to the future, they 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 as 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. They were glossy and, every ten to fifteen seconds, the covers changed to a new beautiful photo of someone that was really famous last year.
After a short wait, the receptionist collected them and they all followed her down a hallway which was very large and very cold to the Forwarding Antechamber. Feliza almost laughed aloud at the sign on the door, wanted to crack some joke about naming rooms by committee with a strong brand emphasis, but she didn't. Now didn't feel like a good time for making jokes.
The receptionist led them in and let them be. The antechamber was another room filled with clean lines, steel, and white lights. There was, also, on the other side of floor to ceiling glass, the actual Forwarding Chamber where the time travel would take place. They all looked in and lost, for a moment, the thought of where they were and simply marveled at the engineering.
The antechamber was actually jutting out into the larger Forwarding Chamber; it was like a pier into a massive space; above were miles upon miles of mirrors and wires and visible lasers all aligned just so. Below them was a massive black slab of inedeterminate and, even so, secret origin. Hanging from the ceiling was a platform and chair for the patient. A bridge between the platform and a thick door. Feliza noticed that the chair on the platform was kid sized, her heart felt heavier at the thought. She noticed, in room she was in now, there were two other chairs tucked against the wall: the largest was sized for adults, another was more like a crib for infants. That hurt, too.
The technician ("Time Artist", his nametag said) walked in, introduced himself. He held in his hand some kind of tablet computer, which he tapped a few buttons on. Then uttered the first words that were more than just pleasantries or epithets. He looked at Feliza. She noticed he had one brown and one blue eye.
"Can she stand on the scale, please?" They walked over to the scale.
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, he explained, there were too many chances for error. He tapped a button and the weight synced with the computer system which then copied it all to his tablet. He still double-checked the displays matched.
Then he said, "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 missives and 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.
The technician opened the heavy door and walked with her over the bridge and onto the platform; for something hanging by only a few strands of jet 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 room they were in.
"Are you ready?" the tech asked.
The adults all nodded. They looked out at the little girl, Hannah, who they had raised for a half-dozen years, 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. "Doctor?" It was some intern. James, maybe?
"We have a problem," James said.
"What is it?"
"You'll have to see it."
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 will win 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. Even the technician didn't have his real name printed on the name tag.
Feliza walked up to him, the nurses were ignoring his sobs; this was nothing unusual to them. Old crazy men were a constant here.
"Why are you here?" Feliza said. Though there was something about him.
"I am from the future."
"Sure you are," her sarcasm a mask for what she thought she already knew. Something about him, though. 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 him, 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 time travel. We could fix it, but...not now. Bring me to them. Please." His begging was weak.
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. "Aren't you?"
He narrowed his eyes, thinking back. "Yes," he said. "I remember. I’m sorry."
The doctor developed tremors.
"Where is she?" Feliza asked. She grabbed the old man by the shoulders. "Where did you send my daughter?" She started to shake him.
"I don't know."
"Where is she?"
"I don't know," he said, but she didn't believe him. She didn't believe her Hannah was somewhere far from Earth, so 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 until the other doctors and nurses pulled her off the old man and she collapsed on the floor, crying.