Author: David Barber
In 1969 the Canaveral Timeport was brand-new. The future had come to meet us and everything was possible.
This is the Chronos Tavern, with its much-polished wooden bar, a dozen booths, subdued lighting, and no hint of clocks, hourglasses or calendars.
The overweight man behind the bar talking to a time-traveller is Frank Court. This is exactly why he opened the Chronos. He would work here for nothing, he once told a traveller.
“So, you’re some sort of future law enforcement,” Frank was saying. “After a runaway.”
There were two of them, Frank was sure of it. There was an occasional ripple in the air, a flicker in the corner of the eye. The disturbance seemed to have settled near the door.
The traveller smiled a smooth curve of enamel where teeth should be. Why didn’t Frank like this man?
Sometimes he wondered what customers made of the place. A shack bordering a jungle airstrip, where a native offers hooch across a plank on two oil drums.
The Timeport Authority had planned an automated refreshment zone, but Frank made a clever pitch. The government could bug the Chronos and listen in on conversations about the future, though it only gathered miles of tape hiss.
“He will walk through that door presently.” The man had put his box of tricks on the bar. Even his lips seemed to speak English. It was only technology.
Frank was wise to the rookie mistake of asking how the man knew. Because it was documented history. It was the smug hierarchy of time travellers who have seen your future.
“I didn’t even realise there were runaways.”
“Idealists, who think we interfere with the past. When in fact we ensure peace and stability. They come here to warn you, but are ill-equipped for the squalor. After enduring a night out there, he will be glad to be apprehended.”
Frank guessed it was the runaway he’d talked with yesterday, sitting on the same stool as this cop. Best not to get involved, he decided.
“What did he tell you?”
Don’t play poker with someone who’s already seen your cards.
The man had made an impassioned speech about worlds that never happened, and Frank had shrugged vaguely. Runaway seemed a misnomer. More like a zealot.
“Like your moon landings,” the man had insisted, these natives seemingly deaf to his warnings.
“What do you mean, moon landings?”
“Didn’t your rivals put a man in space?”
“The Soviets? Oh, right, sixty one. Before the Timeport.”
“Without the Timeport it would all have been different. They need dead-ends to anchor the wormhole…”
After that, the man’s words had become indistinct, his translator on the blurred edge of causality violation.
Frank grew up during the Cold War, which was quietly abandoned when the future arrived and let slip WWIII never happens. He couldn’t recall spaceships fired at the moon, though as a child he’d been promised colonies in space, and von Braun’s winged and shiny rockets docking with the Big Wheel, ready to set out for the red planet and adventure.
For a while he’d debated opening a bar called The Right Stuff here in Canaveral, but then the space program went the way of Zeppelins.
Before Frank could ask his own question, the door opened, and the runaway was seized and bundled back outside by the stealthed presence. Unless you were looking, you wouldn’t even have noticed.
“No harm done,” said the time traveller, getting to his feet. No mistaking the contempt on his face.
Frank had missed something here, but he didn’t know what it was.