Hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day, whether that means you celebrated it or ignored it. Per usual, if anyone has any feedback to offer on this week’s slice of science-fictionish #fridayflash, I’d love to hear it. (Thanks to T for forcing a prompt on me.) Have a good weekend, and don’t forget to check out the rest of this week’s #fridayflash submissions.
A NEW HYPOTHESIS FOR A BETTER TOMORROW
Harold had been sorting applications for hours when his colleague tossed yet another one at him.
“Nuh-uh, this is my last stack, man.”
“No, look at it,” said Larry.
Harold hated Larry. He always had a stain on his shirt, and always in the same place. You’d think he’d learn to lean over, or at the very least tuck a napkin into his collar. But the look on Larry’s face plus the fact that they rarely uttered more than a grunt of acknowledgment to each other convinced Harold to overcome his distaste.
“Fine, but this had better be good.”
Harold set eyes on the piece of paper. It had the standard stats as everyone else. All applicants fell into three categories: military, academic or convicts (who subsequently fell into two categories: those looking for redemption or to better cover up their crimes). He tossed the paper back at Larry.
“Same as everyone else. Another professor looking to impress his colleagues and gain tenure.”
“No, the essay, dude. Come on.” Larry handed it back to him.
He’d never seen Larry so excited about anything. He rolled his eyes and snatched the paper back.
My name is Stephen Jackson, and my mission is simple: to be a better person.
“Seriously?” Harold deadpanned.
“Keep reading,” Larry insisted.
With a heavy sigh, he continued.
I’ve followed your program since its early days, and in my youth I highly considered joining your ranks as a temporal physicist. Alas, science turned out to be one of my lesser suits, and so, as you can see from my application, I became a professor of music instead. And what I’ve learned during my long career (as you no doubt saw in your review, I am nearing retirement, having long ago secured tenure, so that has not factored into my motivation), is that it’s often the smallest actions that make the biggest difference.
Spending as little as ten minutes a day diligently practicing scales has a far greater effect on one’s success as a musician than cramming to learn a piece the night before an audition. A waiter who smiles at you and makes polite conversation turns your meal into a treat rather than a simple escape from having to clean your kitchen. And the person who acknowledges the homeless man on the street and gives him money for a warm meal offers a dose of inspiration to carry on another day.
I have seen instances of this principle time and again throughout my career. Early on, I was a task master, always pushing my students harder and harder, until I noticed something: nearly three-quarters of them dropped out of the music program before the second year. So, after a decade of this, I changed tactics. I smiled. I coached. I cheered them on. And the rate of retention — and success after graduation — increased by 63 percent.
Now, as I’ve noted, I’ve followed your program for a long time, and I’ve studied with great interest all the grand gestures over the years. The attempts to stop key assassinations. The schemes to elect other politicians to office. The efforts to prevent large-scale disasters, both manufactured and natural. And I’m sure you do not need me to point this out, but your rate of success has been less than stellar.
So I propose a new hypothesis for the efficacy of the Temporal Transfer for a Better Tomorrow program. If you want to change history, start small. Send someone back whose only mission is to be kind, to inspire, and to make the world a better place one small action at a time. Let someone be the pebble who creates ripples.
Enclosed you will find endorsements and recommendations from a variety of people, from esteemed academics to former students to community officials. I assure you they will all attest to my intentions, and of course I am very willing to undergo any screenings you deem necessary. I look forward to hearing from you and to working with you to effect an ideal future by changing the past.
Harold set down the piece of paper and looked at Larry, whose face was filled with such expectation he almost wanted to smack him.
Harold shook his head. “You buy this?”
“Why not? He’s right — nothing else has worked. We’ve never tried this. We’ve never even had anyone suggest it.”
Harold handed the paper back to him. “Hey, it’s your career. You want to recommend him, go ahead, but leave me out of it. The guy’s a nutcase.”
Harold went back to his own stack of papers. An hour more and he’d be able to get the hell out of here for another 15 hours of freedom.
When that hour had passed, Harold saw that Larry was still staring at the same application. Harold shook his head and grabbed his things. As he passed behind him toward the door, Larry finally set down the application and began typing. Harold glimpsed the screen: “Dear Mr. Jackson: We are very pleased to inform you that you have been chosen for an Initial Evaluation for Admission to the Temporal Transfer for a Better Tomorrow Program. An official from our program will be in touch shortly…”
Harold scoffed. “Been nice working with you,” he muttered.
Larry looked up at Harold with a different expression than he’d ever worn before. “Have a good night, Harold,” was all he said.
Harold opened his mouth to say something, but no words came. He pulled on his coat and headed out the door, the sound of Larry’s typing fading as he went.