The building had a nondescript white exterior, with a single grey metal door on the facade and no other hint of what lie within. I tried the knob and a metallic rattle told me it was locked. I frowned, then remembered, then pulled out the mysterious envelope I had found under my door yesterday. I mean, 93 years from now. Well, not 93 years from now for me. Yesterday for me. God, I need to figure out how to think of time again.
I opened the envelope, equally nondescript as the building exterior, and shook it a bit. The small key fell out of it and I almost miss catching it. Harold would have sneered derisively if he was here. “World’s clumsiest time traveller!” he would have said.
Harold. Harry. Good old Harry. The argument had been gone sour last night. Will have gone sour? “Why should we go? We have no idea what this is. No idea!” he had exclaimed, gesturing wildly as he was wont to do.
I inserted the small key into the lock on the doorknob, and sure enough it clicked into place. I turned the knob and stepped inside.
Harry was always the smart one. The prudent one. He had all these rules. “We can’t risk collapsing the universe!” or some such theoretical physics bullshit. He’d be hopping mad if he knew I’d actually gone. Well, he doesn’t need to know, it’s a fucking time machine isn’t it? I’ll be back before he knows it.
Behind the door was a long and dimly lit corridor. The only sound was the subtle whirring of a large ceiling fan overhead. Well, that and the creaking of the metal door as I shut it back into place.
A desk. There was a desk. And behind it, a person. A stocky woman, her hair tied in a bun, wearing spectacles. She looked up from what looked like a sudoku puzzle as I stepped closer. Did they even have sudoku in 1923? I reached into my pocket for the envelope again.
I needn’t have bothered. “Mr. Reyes, isn’t it?” She nodded towards the far end of the hallway. “Take the elevator at the end. There’s only one stop.”
“Er, I was hoping to ask–”
“Please hurry. It will all be explained to you when you get off the elevator,” she cut me off a bit rudely as she penciled a 9 into the lower-right segment of her sudoku, “sir.” She ended the sentence with a slight hint of boredom, as if she shouldn’t have to be the one to be entertaining weirdly-dressed men coming into the building at this hour of night.
I nodded, sensing that she didn’t expect any further argument, and headed down the hallway. I stepped into the elevator and pressed the single button I found inside. Strangely, I couldn’t tell whether it brought me up or down.
I had to squint a bit as I stepped out into a corridor a bit more brightly lit than the last one. This corridor was shorter, and the walls tapered with red velvet, the carpet a burgundy affair. The light was coming from a large open door at the end of the hallway. Looked like some sort of banquet? Well, the mysterious invitation had said it was a dinner after all.
“Nineteen twenty three? What the hell happens in 1923? A bloody invite? Who would even send this to us?” Harry said when I read the letter out loud to him. “You didn’t tell anyone did you? I told you we can’t go public yet, we need to do more tests!” Harry was always so angry for some reason. And secretive about the project. We could never tell anyone about the machine. Not even my family. They thought I was consulting with the government.
“Ah, Mr Reyes,” another woman, blond this time, stepped out of seemingly nowhere as my eyes adjusted to the brighter lights. She looked strikingly similar to the one I met earlier. Perhaps they were sisters.
“She’s my grandmother actually, long story,” she said, cutting me off before I could ask, “sorry sir, we can’t waste too much time, please step into the hall.”
Inside the hall, there were a number of men milling about. Perhaps ten or a dozen? They were all wearing some sort of cocktail mask. I would have thought it some sort of masquerade ball, except they weren’t wearing very formal clothes. Most of them had on simple shirts and slacks or jeans. Nothing to indicate they were out of place in this era though.
“Ah, you’re here,” an older man came towards me and lowered his mask. His visage was strikingly familiar, but I could not place it. “It is almost time, then.”
“Time, time for what?” I said, confused. “Who are you? The lady upstairs,” Or was it downstairs? “She said someone would explain all this to me.”
“Indeed, yet there is little time for introduction, so let us keep this brief. My name is Alexander Reyes, age 61.”
I did a double-take. “Wait, what? We have the same name?”
“I know you’re clever so you’ll have figured it out before I finish this sentence,” future me (my future self? myself? I?) said, “So let us not dally any further. Harold is coming.”
“Harold? Harry?” I shook my head, still trying to wrap my head around everything as the rest of the men in the banquet hall started to approach mill around us. “No, he’s not. He doesn’t know I came–”
“He will,” another one of the men took down his mask. My own face stared back at me, easily recognizable this time, if only slightly older. “Don’t worry about it, there’s nothing you could have done.”
“I could go back,” I stammer out. I reach into my pocket, looking for the wayback beacon. A terrible name for such a device, Harry had said. Harry. “What’s wrong, why is Harry coming?”
“He knows. Well, he will know. That we mean to stop him.” Another version of me spoke. Glad to know I never will get the hang of the verbs.
“He can’t follow me here,” I reasoned out. “I have the only beacon. And he doesn’t know how to operate the machine without me.”
“You’ll teach him,” a grim version of my face said, “Don’t resist, it’s a waste of time. He was meant to come here.”
“I’m sorry it took this long, all of you,” it was sixty-one again who spoke. “To arrange this meeting, but then again, you all already know it will.” He nodded towards me. “You were the first, so you had to be last to arrive. So that he doesn’t know we are all here, waiting for him.”
“To kill him of course.” The grim one spoke again. “And yes, we will need this many.”
The building shook, as if some powerful force was shaking its foundation. Everyone around me started murmuring in anticipation.
Sixty-one reached out and put his hand on my shoulder. “You must go. You cannot fight him, you are not ready. There is but one more thing you must remember,” he looked around at the gathered future versions of me. “When you are in great peril, recall this gathering and remember that you will surely survive.” With that, he reached into my pocket. Is it an invasion of personal space if it’s your own future self? That was the last thought on my mind as he activated the wayback beacon.
“Wait, I–” The familiar vertigo overcame me again and I knew it was too late. I was going back.
(I’m new; be gentle~)