The big clock in Times Square had counted down and the ball had dropped, but Dave wasn’t ready to leave the party.
His mission had been complete for several hours now, and instead of returning to 2043 immediately, he had remained in 2018 a while longer, intending to take advantage of the easy availability of alcohol. Through the efforts of a newly elected Muslim president and a Congress controlled by the New Values party, New Prohibition would be implemented in 2041, two years ago, by Dave’s straight-line reckoning, and having lived without it for two years since, he was really missing it.
He sat in a chair in the noisy, crowded living room nursing his sixth or seventh bloody Mary as the party-goers who had been hanging on to see the stroke of twelve gathered their coats and started filing out. The room was littered with New Year’s paraphernalia and half-empty cups that teetered on every flat surface. Dave picked up the television remote, puzzled over it for a few minutes, and managed to change the channel on the television hanging above the fireplace to the news: ‘CNN.’ He smiled at the quaintness of the logo and felt a sense of accomplishment and relief as an equally relieved-looking reporter described the fiscal deal that had been passed by the House over the last few hours.
“No way to run a damned government, is it?” said a youngish bearded man as he sat on the sofa across from where Dave sat. “Looks like were gonna last another month or two anyway.” He took a hit from the red plastic cup in his hand.
“Everybody’s leaving, it looks like,” he said in response.
“Not me. Too drunk to drive,” the beard said. “At least, I will be pretty soon,” he guffawed and took another drink from his red cup.
“Came pretty close this time, didn’t we?” Dave said. He swirled the remains of his drink and smiled to himself. “Yep. Pretty close.”
“Ah, Congress can’t legislate itself out of a paper bag. It’s those damn Republicans, they don’t care at all about anybody except rich people. Of course, being rich myself, I guess I ought to be with them, but I just can’t stomach Ryan, and even my own little congressman, whom I voted for and who is Republican, is getting more squirrely every day. And don’t get me started on Trump”
“Who’s your guy?” Dave asked.
“Crenshaw, of Florida’s Fourth,” he answered. “I’m Ralph Thompson.”
“Dave, Dave Patterson.” He had no wish to prick the ears of law enforcement in 2043, who almost certainly would be watching and listening to his activities here in the past, and so he used his cover for the last name. Even if young Mr. Thompson tried to find out who and what he was, using whatever early, crude search mechanisms were available in 2018, he would find that the name Dave Patterson was so common as to make a search for him impractical.
Dave thought for a moment and realized that his six-year-old self would be marking the New Year in that yellow frame house on the outskirts of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It was the year his father would die in a farm accident. Dave frowned to remember that, and frowned again to realize that although he could and did travel through time, when duly authorized, he couldn’t do anything about that.
“Well, Dave, gaze long upon your country’s lawmakers,” Ralph said grandly as he gestured with his red cup. “A bunch of morons, if you ask me.”
“I’d certainly agree with that,” Dave responded. He was thinking about how that very day, he’d performed a series of actions in person and remotely that led to the fiscal agreement that was being reported on as they watched. Some he did by himself over the Internet in the public library on Fourth Street; most of the rest he did by placing a single telephone call. The last of it required a personal visit to a particular park bench on the National Mall, just across from the National Air and Space Museum. After he sat on the bench between 2:24 pm and 2:26 pm, his job was done and so he went into the museum; two years later, a suicide bomber’s explosion would start a fire that would destroy much of its historic contents.
“I ran for city council here in Linden,” Ralph said. “Didn’t make it. Seeing this kind of crap makes me not want to try.” He took another drink from his cup, and Dave had a thought. Through an effort of mind, he turned on his implant and a display, visible only to him, appeared in his visual field. He had access to 2043’s version of Wikipedia, and navigated over to the biography section to see just exactly who and what Ralph Thompson was. He added Linden, Tennessee, to the search protocol and guessimated Ralph’s age to be late twenties.
Yep, there he was. Ralph Carter Thompson, born 1984 in Knoxville, Tennessee, elected to the first of four House terms in 2024. He would be elected to the first of three terms in the Senate in 2040. Appointed member of the Judicial Committee in 2031. Then Dave remembered where he’d heard the name. A Senator Ralph Thompson, New Values Party from Tennessee, and the block of Senate votes he controlled, would put Rebecca Livingston Reynolds on the Supreme Court in 2042. And Justice Reynolds–well, her impact on the history of the 40’s and 50’s and beyond would be almost immeasurable.
As Dave looked at the bearded Ralph, he marveled at how the critical people in history never seem to look the part. George Washington as a young man was a whiny know-it-all who affected European graces on a frontier budget; James Garfield spoke Greek and Latin but could barely be made to understand the dangers of fiat currently; Jerry Paxesty had been a barely-competent mayor of a small Texas town before being elevated through a series of missteps and mistakes to the governorship of Texas and then the presidency; his disastrous single term set the stage for the New Values takeover in the 2030s.
“Listen, Ralph,” Dave said. “You hungry? Let’s you and me go get something to eat. I’ve got some friends who are looking for a young candidate to run for school board,” he said. “What are your views on education?”
“Ah, my favorite subject,” Ralph said, perking up. “Education is really what I’m interested in.” His red cup was abandoned on the table. “See, the problem we have is that we force kids to go. That’s a huge mistake. After all, we can’t force them to learn, can we? We need to first drop the mandatory attendance requirement to fifth grade, not twelfth or whatever it is in your state. Hell, kids who don’t want to be there don’t do the work anyway, and so they don’t get much past fifth-grade work l, if that.” He was on his feet. “Then we need to make parents post a behavior bond. A thousand dollars up front at the beginning of the school year. For every problem their kid causes, they lose a hundred bucks. At the end of the year, whatever’s left gets returned to the parents. Then–” Dave had his coat on and was guiding the young man out the door and into his specially modified car, which looked to all appearances as a time- and place-appropriate 2014 Honda Accord, but in fact was connected via his implant to 2043, and controllers there handled the minutiae of traffic and cops and red lights.
In the wee-morning minutes of 2018, they drove off toward the nearest Waffle House. Now there’s an innovation we should have preserved, Dave thought. Waffle House.