Marshall was awakened by footsteps.
“Marshall Trent?” a voice asked.
Marshall opened his eyes. A woman with buzz cut red hair stood in his dorm room. Beside her was a guy holding something — A weapon? A remote? Both wore Battlestar Galactica-type fatigues.
“Who are you?” Marshall asked.
“We’re from the future,” said the man with a ta-da grin.
“We’re here to stop you from inventing time travel,” the woman explained.
“What? Time travel isn’t real!”
“Not yet,” the woman said. “Now it never will be.” She held out something. “Here’s the court order.”
Marshall looked at the iPhone-sized metal object, confused.
“Give it here.” The woman flicked her wrist, and it unfolded to a paper-thin tablet. She handed it back.
On it, Marshall saw the sort of legalese that made his brain shut down. He let his eyes rest on it.
“You have to at least scroll down and hit acknowledge.” the woman snapped.
“I’m not going to invent time travel. I’m a psychology major,” he protested. “I’ve never taken physics.”
“So you haven’t been studying spacetime?” The man looked around for science experiments, and saw nothing but a mug with mold floating in it.
“No!” Marshall said. The future commandos exchanged glances.
“Maybe we should come back later,” the man suggested.
“No,” the woman said. “The research clearly said…” She held out her hand for the tablet.
Marshall returned it, gently, so it wouldn’t shatter.
The woman flicked at it and read the results.
The man peered over her shoulder. “Yeah, we better check that.”
He linked arms with the woman and touched his wrist. They vanished.
Marshall didn’t tell anyone about it. It was both too strange and too boring. He met some future soldiers, they gave him some paperwork to read, they left. It did inspire him to take a physics class. He got a C.
He graduated, and, as psych majors do, got a job in client management. One Tuesday, he was unjamming the copier when the future commandos reappeared.
“Sorry about earlier,” the man said.
“Dev!” The woman snapped.
“Sorry, Melissa,” Dev said.
In two quick bounds, Marshall had reached and closed the door. “Not a good time,” he hissed.
“Kind of the point,” Melissa said.
Dev examined the copier. “Is that the machine?”
“No, that’s a copier,” Marshall said.
Melissa offered the tablet again. “Read all the way to the bottom this time.”
“Look, what’s going on?” Marshall asked.
She glared at him. Her eyes were fluorescent green. Marshall wondered if they could be natural.
“The dangers are real!” she said. “The effects time tourism alone is having on the stability of spacetime can’t be overstated, never mind pre-order delivery. Time travel use will explode in the next decade, and we must stop it.”
Dev, nodding along, added, “So, now, I’m sure you won’t want to invent it.”
“I don’t want to.” Marshall sighed. “If I promise I will never invent time travel, will you go away?”
“No,” Melissa said. “We need to be sure the machine isn’t here.”
“It isn’t. It doesn’t exist. Search my office if you want!”
In Marshall’s office, Dev rifled papers, while Melissa rummaged in drawers. She dug energy drink cans out of the bottom drawer and tossed them back, disgusted. “Nothing here.”
Dev turned to Marshall. “Empty your pockets.” He was still holding the possible weapon.
Marshall emptied his pockets, one eye on the ominous blue glow at one end of the maybe-weapon. Wallet, keys, and phone clattered on the desk. Dev grabbed the phone. “That can’t be it,” Melissa said. “Come on.” She grabbed Dev’s arm, and they disappeared.
Marshall became a lawyer, got married, and bought a house in Sacramento. He was working late at the kitchen table when they reappeared.
They were standing behind the granite kitchen island, looking flustered. Marshall could imagine them bickering as they bounced through the timestream.
Melissa’s mouth was still open as she looked around. “This is the house!” she said. “The Inventor’s House. I’ve been here! Where’s the machine?”
“I don’t have one!” Marshall said.
Ignoring this, she said, “Search the house.”
Dev started opening drawers.
“No!” Marshall grabbed his phone. “If you don’t leave right now, I’m calling the police.”
For the first time, he really looked at them. There was a cosplay look to their fatigues, and the patches on their jackets seemed homemade.
“Let me see that court order again,” he said.
“No,” Melissa held the tablet close, sounding uncertain for once.
“I don’t believe you’re official,” Marshall said. “Are you time vigilantes or something?”
“We are self-appointed defenders of spacetime,” Dev said. “But we wouldn’t need to be if the authorities took the problem seriously. They’re in the pockets of the time tourism people and too interested in the military applications…” He trailed off under Melissa’s electric glare.
“Well,” Marshall said. “You can discuss that with the police.” He dialed and held his finger over the send icon.
Melissa grabbed Dev’s wrist, but the device only beeped plaintively. Dev took it off, laid it on the counter, and studied it. “Battery’s dead.” He sounded surprised.
“You didn’t charge it before we left?” Melissa demanded.
“I didn’t think we would make so many trips, Melissa. If you’d gotten the research right, we wouldn’t have!” He turned to Marshall. “Do you have an induction charger?”
“We can’t just wait here!” Melissa said.
“How else… Hang on, though… I brought the homer!” He patted his pockets. He dumped out some unidentifiable objects, searched again, and held up circle of red plastic. “Good for one trip home.”
Melissa took his arm. “Homers make me feel sick,” she grumbled. They blinked out.
Closing the drawers Dev had left open, Marshall saw the time travel device lying forgotten, dusted with pocket lint from the future.
No one ever came back for it.
A. J. Brennan is a D.C.-based SF writer and NaNoWrimo obsessive. This is her first published story. She can be found on walks, in coffee shops, and on Twitter @ajbwrites.