The Future of the Past

 

Stern Badcolonel leaned forward in his extinct leather chair, over his luxurious extinct oak desk, to activate the UltraHyperSuperTelevid 9000 Screen (the latest model, released just before the most recent atomic war), then sat back as its tubes warmed up. He swiveled the chair to insert a dollarcred into the AutoCoffeeMat (“Serving the best brew since the seventeenth atomic war!”)

The machine hummed and dispensed a line of ten identical stainless steel mugs of coffee. Stern leaned forward to examine them for a full minute, then removed the one with the most pleasing froth pattern. With an awful squealing the vending machine dropped the rest into an internal garbage disposal. He really should start ordering fives. Steel had been extinct since the nineteenth atomic war.

Research Division Chief Sciencey Expositia’s face now filled the screen. Stern stared for a moment, then spent several paragraphs physically describing her in much more detail than any other character in the story, revealing far more about his internal psychology than the future world he was meant to demonstrate. Unaware of this — otherwise she’d be working on a Fourth Wall Escape Hatch, which would be only slightly less improbable than her actual assignment — she gave her report.

“Our time machine accidentally brought someone back from the past!”

“Oh my atomic war!” cried Stern. “Has he contaminated you all with appalling past plagues while dying of harmless future diseases in turn?”

“First, she, and second, no. The hard-sci-fi-ware wasn’t engaged. The time machine was strictly in ‘plot device’ software settings.”

“Ah. That explains why it hasn’t revolutionized society. And why we treat it like a slightly fancier car.”

“Indeed.”

“Did she escape from your lab, running wild through a confusing future landscape while learning about our ways?”

“Uh, no, she couldn’t even work our door handles, and after looking out the windows she went into some sort of shock.”

“I’m assuming you’ve been filling her in on history since then. Have you told her about all the atomic wars?”

“Oh yes,” smiled Expositia, “I’ve been reading her ‘A is for Atom, B is for Bomb…”

Stern joined in to sing along happily.

“- C’s contamination and now the apples are gone!” He smiled. “That’s my favorite children’s book!”

“Yes. I always thought it was sort of nice of Zaire to start the twenty-sixth atomic war. Really considerate.”

“Oh well, better get on with today’s guest. What does she want to tell us – have we forgotten how to be human? Should we engage nature? Can she ridiculously fix technology hundreds of years ahead of her own time just by looking at it? Oh my atomic war, is she going to tell us atomic bombs are actually bad?”

This was unthinkable. Atomic bombs had been extinct for years. Stern shook his head. They didn’t know what they had! They could have conserved them! Oh well, too late now. He looked up at the screen.

“Er, no.” Expositia looked a little confused. “She’s asking if we remember something called the lottery?”

 

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