In the not too distant future, but also not today . . .
The kid hated the city. Everything was so dark and poor. He lived in a shitty neighborhood, but at least you could go outside at night if you didn’t go too far. He checked the GPS on his phone, hoping it wouldn’t get knocked out of his hand by some invisible homeless person.
He prayed that he looked intimidating in his dark coat and low-brimmed hat, but anyone that was less than half-polluted could tell he was just a frightened little punk. The GPS told him to make a right turn down the alley. You have got to be fucking kidding me.
Red brick walls turned to grey as he made his way toward the dim yellow light above the steel door. His boot crunched on some glass that looked like it came from a pile of shattered bulbs. Someone must have changed this light nearly every day.
It sounded like music coming from the inside. He took a deep breath and smashed the bottom of his fist against the door several times. When there was no answer, he looked around for something metal to strike the door with. He picked up a rusty trash can lid and began to hit the door with it until he heard the deadbolt turn.
The door swung open outward, almost knocking the kid on his ass. He could now hear clearly that the music was Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band.”
“Oh, you’re the nine o’clock. Get in here.” He was pulled into a small, brightly lit anteroom. “I need you to fill out this form.” The voice belonged to a young, not unattractive woman. She was wearing a short skirt and a tank top revealing a few of her assets, including ass cheeks, implants, and a field of tattoos. He wasn’t all that interested, but then again, neither was she. “Don’t take forever. The guys have no patience.”
“Yeah, I just wanted to ask . . . ” She disappeared into another room, which seemed to be the source of the music. The song had finished and restarted.
He completed the form in a few seconds. Most of it was basic personal information. The only item that differentiated it from any standard medical form was the question: “Exact place of conception? (If it was in a building, please be specific as to the approximate dimensions of the room.)” He wrote down “ten by twelve,” crossed it out and replaced it with “ten by eight,” but he really had no idea.
When the skirt returned, he asked her about the size of the room that they were standing in. She didn’t answer. “Okey, they’re ready.”
He walked in as the song started for a third time. What the fuck?
His irritation at the repetitive classic rock quickly gave way to blind panic as he was clearly not ready for what he saw.
Sitting in mismatched beanbags were five men, all in their twenties, wearing shiny yellow jumpsuits and eye shields just like . . .
“Are you guys wearing Devo clothes?”
“You got a problem with our unis, mate?” The statement was delivered in a phony Brit accent.
“Um, no. I just think that— Is that your accent real?”
“You’ve got a lot of questions.” This came from an Asian man brandishing a rattan stick in a quasi-threatening manner. “What’s with the coat and hat? You think you’re the Black Spy or something?”
“Did you bring our money order?” This one appeared to be the leader. Dark-haired, Midwestern accent.
“Yeah, but I have some questions. I mean, $10,000 is a lot for this.”
The group all shared an annoying little chuckle. “Do you think you can walk into our clubhouse with a money order and just start shooting out questions?”
Without warning, the Asian man with the stick poked him sharply in the ass.
“Hey, quit it.” The jab had a mild stinging effect.
“Excellent. You passed the test. Now, I’ll give you my little spiel, and then if you have any questions, I’ll entertain them.” This was the Midwesterner speaking again. He paused as if for effect.
“We erase mistakes. More specifically, we erase accidental pregnancies in the only truly ethical and legal way that society currently affords. We will be traveling back to just prior to the moment of conception and intruding upon you by jabbing at you with rattan sticks until you pull out. The pregnancy will technically have never occurred.” He waved his hand dramatically toward the other Devo lookalikes. “Now that you know exactly what we do, are you impressed? I mean, it’s pretty badass, isn’t it?”
The client just stood there with his mouth open. He was wondering how to get his cash back from the money order.
“Did I mention that your girlfriend or whoever doesn’t have any say in this?”
He thought about Bethany’s immediate post-pregnancy text-message marriage proposal. “I was hoping to do this someday with someone better looking, but I guess I’m stuck with you.” Bitch.
“Okay, how do you achieve the time travel? An alarm clock attached to a microwave?”
“Yeah, exactly. How did you know? It’s over there.” The kid looked over at a table where a digital alarm clock was duct-taped to a fairly typical microwave.
“Whatever. When is it going to happen?”
“Technically it already has.”
“Wait a second. Foul. If it already happened, how come I don’t remember it? This is a rip.”
“It doesn’t work until Lara prints your receipt and we do the time travel. I don’t know why. Now, go give her the money order. We have a busy night.” As the kid exited the office, the men started to leave their beanbags and collect their rattan sticks.
He heard a crackling noise over the speakers as he handed Lara the money order. She punched some numbers into a cheap handheld printer. The door to the clubhouse swung open.
“Your flat is cranky, mate.”
“Bethany is one fine looking lady.”
“Quentin, that’s unprofessional. How do you feel, kid?”
“You weren’t even gone that long.” But after a moment of confusion, he remembered them coming to his room. He had no idea what the hell was happening that night until he read their calling card after the intrusion:
About a month from now, you will hire us to come poke you with rattan sticks. This is the result of that future meeting. Please make sure you follow the directions on the back of the card or it will really fuck with the timeline. Also, your girlfriend is probably going to dump you.
“Wow, thanks, guys. So what do I do now?”
“We’re going to a club. Want to come?
Just then Grand Funk Railroad’s “American Band” restarted and everyone started dancing.