“Alright…,” Ruben said. He managed to get the words out between ragged breaths as he collapsed to his knees. Quick, repeated uses of the time travel bracelets took a heavy toll on his body trying to stay ahead of the unknown agent. No matter what period he traveled to, the bearded stranger in a navy blue suit was always there. His knees sunk slightly into the soft, Jurrasic soil. “I give up.” Ruben raised his arms and kept them apart to show off the metallic-purple bracelets on his wrists. The stranger walked forward through the immense foliage with a smirk.
“Hey, thanks for making it easy,” he said once he reached Ruben. The man offered a hand to help him up. “It’s my first mission, I hope they’re all this easy,” he chuckled. “Name’s, Miller,” he said when Ruben accepted his hand and stood from his knees.
“How was that easy?” Ruben asked. He was still breathing heavy trying to catch his breath. The stranger did not seem to be as strained. As he stood, he noticed Miller did not have a bracelet on his right wrist; the only way to time travel was with a pair of them.
“How are you following me?”
“Following you?” Miller chuckled. “I’d argue you’re following me, time travel’s fun that way,” he said. Thinking about it, Ruben found a grain of truth in that. From his perspective, Miller was already at every spot he stopped.
“What did you do to my family!?” he asked in a near-shout. His mind didn’t want to deal with the logistics of time-travel, he was on a mission. He swung at Miller as hard as he could; his fist halted less than in inch from the man’s face, touching his blond beard.
“First mission, remember?” Miller smiled. Ruben could not will his body to move. His eyes were stuck facing forward; he couldn’t look around with them either. “I haven’t done anything to anyone’s family. I’m going to unfreeze you and I recommend you don’t try to sucker-punch me again.” Miller stepped out of the way, then Ruben’s fist immediately jumped forward with no loss of momentum.
“Your bosses had my family killed,” Ruben growled after finding his balance again.
“If you mean the Time Council, they’re not my bosses. I’m on a sort of agent-exchange. Though, I can guarantee they didn’t kill your family either.” Miller said. He made no moves to bind Ruben or rush him off to a cell; he stood there casually and willing to converse. In the back of his mind, Ruben tried to think up a way to trick Miller into visiting the moment his wife and children died.
“Yeah, easy to say when you don’t have to prove it. If they’re not hiding anything, why is time travel illegal?”
“Oh, you want proof? Is that why you’re time traveling?”
“What the hell did you think?!” Ruben yelled. Miller shrugged, unconcerned.
“Didn’t. First mission. They said, ‘go get this guy’ so here we are.” Ruben was about to belittle Miller’s intelligence, but Miller kept talking. “Proof is easy enough. What date?”
“Huh?” Ruben asked. Then, his brain kicked in and he realized his chance. “April 4, 2020. 10 a.m.” Miller nodded; Ruben blinked. When he opened his eyes he was standing in a park, yards away from his wife and sons.
“June!” Ruben shouted and dashed forward; then, he blinked again. He opened his eyes to find himself in the same spot he landed, but this time he couldn’t move.
“No interfering, we’re just here to watch,” Miller said. Ruben stared intently, watching his wife enjoy a picnic with their twins. He expected to see suited government agents walking up behind them; it never happened.
One moment, his wife was smiling and laughing. The next moment all three of them lay dead on the ground. Confusion and grief coursed through Ruben’s mind, but his body was frozen in time. He wanted to double over crying; but, couldn’t even shed a tear.
“Oh, that’s what happened,” Miller said. “Now you know why time travel is illegal.” Ruben blinked; water flowed out of his eyes as all his tears came out at once. The blurry world was no longer the park; they were on a beach near sunset. Ruben let himself sink to his knees.
“What the hell happened?” he asked.
“Time is more fixed than most people think,” Miller said. “Not many can change it; but, changes are permanent. Your family wasn’t supposed to die there. The Time Council can’t change time, so they didn’t do it.”
“If we can’t change time, why is it illegal to time travel?” Ruben asked.
“To keep people from learning what you just learned. The Time Council can’t change anything; they’re powerless. They don’t want that secret getting out,” Miller said.
“I’ll make sure it does,” Ruben growled. His hope was gone, the only thing he had left was his misplaced hatred for the Time Council. He was willing to nurture that hatred just to have a reason to life.
“Sorry, that’s not going to happen,” Miller said. “They’re not my bosses, but at the moment I’m working for them. I was told to bring you back in, or stop you by any means necessary.” Ruben felt a hand on his shoulder, then he blinked. He opened his eyes in a sunny park, yards away from his wife and children. He immediately closed his eyes again.
“So you wanted to rub it in first?” he asked.
“It took a bit of searching, but I found exactly what I need to stop you,” Miller said; he patted Ruben on the back. Ruben peeked an eye open when he realized he wasn’t dead. His wife and kids were still playing yards away. He realized one of his sons was a daughter.
“What do you mean? What’s going on?” he asked.”On this Earth, you disappeared about a week ago. You’re dead, they’ll never find your body. Your wife, May, won’t find out for a few years. If you choose to stay here, out of the Time Council’s hair, she’ll never know he’s dead. It’s as close as I can get you.”