The man blurred into existence behind the dense shrubs, and checked a small device he took from his pocket. Since time and date seemed correct, he straightened his sports coat and stepped from behind the bushes.
College students in rugby shirts swarmed up and down the walkway, toting backpacks. The man oriented himself to the towers of Old Main, and started walking toward Schnader Hall.
He found himself on a lawn ringed with brick buildings, and stopped a young student who was walking along. “Excuse me; do you know–”
The youth stared at him for a minute. “Boy, you really look like–”
The man interrupted. “Yes, I’m his uncle; managed to get out here to visit him!” he said in a cheerful tone. “Have you seen him today?”
“Yeah, uh, he was down by the dining hall a little while ago.” The student pointed, and then shrugged. “Man, you do look like an older version of him.”
The man laughed, thanked the student and headed toward the Quad in front of the dining hall. Once there, he stopped by a large oak tree and scanned the grass Quad. The crowd of students was laughing and milling around right after lunch, but it only took a few moments for the man to identify his goal.
He strode forward, weaving amongst the students. His target was walking along with two other young men, blue LL Bean book bag over his shoulder. The man hurried to catch up and fell in beside the student with the blue bag. “Hello there!” he said, tapping the youth on the shoulder.
The young man turned to him and stopped. “Excuse me?”
The man smiled broadly. “Hey–I’m your uncle Javier. We need to talk in private.”
“But I don’t have–” the student started to say as the man took his arm and walked him away from his friends.
Before the student could regain his composure, the man quickly said, “There is a scar on your right shin that you tell everyone is from a fencing saber wound. In fact, you fell in an uncovered manhole walking home from fencing practice and got that scar.”
The student stopped walking and stared at the man. “I’ve never told anyone that.”
“There’s an Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon in your dorm room that you’ve read at least one hundred times. You’re giving serious thought to becoming a communist based on that,” the man added.
The student said nothing.
The man gave him a crooked smile and lifted up his right arm, pulling back his sleeve. There was a faint, long scar on his forearm, wrapping around his wrist. “You’ll get that in about ten years. You don’t become a communist, by the way. You join the Libertarian Party.”
The student started chuckling and shaking his head. “Let me guess–are you supposed to be me from the future?”
The man smiled again. “Yes.”
Some time later, they were sitting on a bench outside of the College Center eating soft pretzels. The man was really enjoying them.
“So, assuming I believe you, I guess there’s nothing you can tell me about my future.”
“Goodness, no,” the man laughed. “You’ve read enough skiffy, haven’t you? I’m here to get information from you.” Suddenly, he had a thought and leaned forward conspiratorially. “Well, I can tell you some unimportant stuff.”
“Really? Like what?” The student, convinced he was playing a game, was still intrigued.
“You’ll meet your wife in an interesting place, for example.”
“Meet–as in the future? I’m not going to marry…?”
The man laughed. “No, not her. No one you’ve met yet. I can give you that little tidbit. The meeting, though–it’s a good story to tell your children.”
“I have children?”
“No, I do. Maybe just one. Can’t tell you more than that.”
“How far in the future do you come from?”
“Pretty far, actually. I made it to the ships, if that means anything to you.”
“I can’t remember whether you’ve read Ken MacLeod yet.”
“Never heard of him.”
“Oh, you will. Anyway, I’m far enough in the future that I have to offload memories from this old brain,” the man tapped his skull, “and store them elsewhere.”
“Christ, that’s wild!” The student laughed.
“There’s going to be ubiquitous worldwide information networking in the future; actually, some of it’s in place right now. In eight years… well, I could tell you to go look up Sergei in College Park and lend him some money.”
“I don’t have any money and even if I did–,” the student observed.
“–you’d be crazy to lend it to some college student based on the word of somebody who says he’s from the future,” the man finished. “I know. Anyway, this system evolves and changes and becomes ridiculously sophisticated, but there are all kind of legacy backwaters and left-over security systems. Stupid things like passwords–”
“You need a password that you’ve forgotten?” the student said.
The man shook his head, irritated. “How could you tell me a password you haven’t even created yet? No, passwords get forgotten all the time. However, there’s a backup system called a security question, and such a system is guarding some very important data.”
“Important enough to send someone back in time?” the student said with some incredulity.
“This may be some of the most important data in the solar system,” the man said seriously.
The student got a chill down his back. “I think I may be starting to take you seriously.”
“Good. I need you to carefully think about what I’m going to ask you. It may seem trivial, but the fate of several worlds may rest on it.”
“Several…? Well… okay. So this security question is something about my — our — history?”
“Exactly. It’s crucial that you remember this accurately.” The man took a deep breath. “What I need to know from you is… what was our mother’s maiden name?”
Ramon Rozas III writes in West Virginia.