Astrid Maxxim stepped out of the time machine and looked around. The Main Street of Maxxim City didn’t look very different twenty-five years in the future, at least at first. Then she noticed gigantic buildings off in the distance, so high they reached up into the clouds. Hearing a thunderous noise to the west, she turned to see a huge spacecraft, spherical and the size of a football stadium, rise up into the sky. As her eyes followed the vapor trail from the sky to the ground, she saw the monorail station, looking just as it always had. In front of it though, was a four story tall video screen. A close up of a woman’s face filled the image. She was talking but Astrid couldn’t hear what she was saying, and from this angle she couldn’t make out the woman’s features.
“Must be a soft drink add,” she mused.
It suddenly occurred to Astrid that at mid-day there should have been shoppers going in and out of the stores and cars moving up and down the street. There were neither. The storefronts across the street from her should have been The Bagel Nook and Dickens and Co. Books. Now however, neither building was labeled. They didn’t even seem to have front doors. There was a kind of a slot about five feet wide and three feet tall just above where the door would have been. As she watched, a flying drone, held aloft by four Maxxim hoverdisks, just like those in her hoverbike, zipped over her head and into the slot in what had been The Bagel Nook.
“Maybe they have drones pick up things for them at the store,” she thought aloud.
Turning around, she saw that the Malt Shop didn’t look all that different. It appeared to be open, so she started toward it. It wasn’t until she was right in front of the door though that she noticed the sign. Instead of Maxxim City Malt Shop, it read Startopia Malt Shop. The door whooshed open, kind of like on Star Trek, as she passed through. Inside though, it was exactly the same—the same barstools and counter, the same tables and chairs, and the same menu board. There were no customers though. “Just a minute,” she heard someone call out.
A minute later, a man who looked to be in his thirties stepped out of the back room and walked out to the counter as she sat down on one of the round stools. Dressed in white pants and shirt, and with an apron tied around his waist, he was pretty normal looking. He was a little chubby around the middle and his hair was thinning. Astrid looked at the nametag above his shirt pocket.
“Irving?” she said. “Irving Witzel?”
“Yup, that’s me. Do I know you? You look familiar.”
“Um, my name is Gloria.” Astrid didn’t think she had to worry about changing anything here in the future the way she would have if she was in the past, but if she admitted who she was it might cause complications. “My parents used to live here in Maxxim City and they told me you worked here.”
“Oh yeah? Well, they must have lived here quite a while ago if they still called it… if they still used the old name.”
“You’re good friends with Dennis Brown, right?”
“We were best friends,” he smiled sadly. “He was killed in the war.”
“The Last War, the only war.”
“How about his sister?”
“Her name was Denise,” said Irving. “She became a writer—a pretty good one from what I hear. She might be working for the news agency, or she might be in prison.”
“Yeah, well you know how writers are. Are you going to order something?”
“Um, yes. Let me have a chocolate soda, please.”
Irving’s eyes lit up.
“You’re parents must have told you about chocolate sodas. I used to be the best soda jerk in North America.” He pulled a large glass from beneath the counter and began mixing chocolate sauce and soda water together. Then he plopped two scoops of chocolate ice cream into the mixture. “Sorry. No whipped cream. I haven’t made one of these in years.”
He slid the glass toward Astrid, and she took a straw and stuck it into the confection, taking a long sip.
“Delicious.” She took another sip. “Say, Denise Brown used to have a friend named Valerie.”
Irving’s face scrunched up as if he’d bitten into a lemon.
“Governor Diaz. I don’t talk about politics. Say, why are you asking all these questions?”
“Um, I’m doing a report for school… um, it’s about my mother growing up.”
“Oh yeah?” suspicious dripped from Irving’s words. “Just who is your mother?”
“Oh, you probably never heard of her,” said Astrid, struggling to think of someone whom she could name. “Her name was… Océane Feuillée.”
Irving’s face broke into a grin. “I know you!”
“Sure. You’re Gloria Bundersmith! Your dad was a good friend of mine. Boy-oh-boy, I remember when he married Océane and moved to Europe. That was the last big party we had around these parts. How is your dad?”
“Fine, last time I saw him,” Astrid’s voice came out as a squeak.
“Is he still friends with Christopher Harris. We all expected Toby to move to Europe, marrying a French girl and all, but it was a surprise when Christopher and Alicia went with them.”
“Um, yes,” said Astrid. “They’re still best friends. Why wouldn’t they be?”
In a daze, she turned her attention to her soda, sipping all the liquid out and then taking a bite of the leftover ice cream with a spoon. Irving took out a white towel and began polishing some glassware. Her mind abuzz, the girl inventor watched him. Finally she noticed that every so often he looked up toward the back wall. Back in the present, or the past, or the past present, or whatever, a large mirror had hung there. Now a white tablecloth thumbtacked to the wall covered the space. Finally Irving turned back to her.
“Um, I don’t know if my money is still good,” she said.
“Not if it’s Euros,” replied Irving. “Don’t worry though, kid. This one’s on the house.”
“Thanks,” said Astrid. “Say Irving, I mean Mr. Witzel, do you remember Astrid Maxxim?”
“I wondered if you would ask about her.” He looked around the room and then leaned across the counter to look out the front window. “I bet people still show up to some town in Austria and ask what Hitler was like when he was a boy.”
Irving laughed nervously. “Not really a fair comparison.”
“I should think not,” Astrid blurted out.
“After all,” said Irving. “I hear Hitler loved music and was kind to dogs.”
Suddenly the door burst inward, sending shattered glass across the room, and a dozen bluish silver figures marched in. Irving turned as if looking for an escape, only to see six more of the invaders marching out of the back room and into the space behind the counter. As one, all eighteen figures raised their right arms, which transformed into some kind of weapon. Red laser targeting dots appeared on Irving’s chest, and Astrid’s too!
“Irving Witzel!” said the foremost figure. “By the Authority of Valerie Diaz, Governor of District Three, you are ordered to stand in judgment!”
Astrid gasped. The voice was that of her friend Valerie, only she sounded grown up. Even more shocking though was that the eighteen bluish silver figures all looked like grown-up versions of Robot Valerie!
“Why is your reminder covered?” demanded the closest Robot Valerie, pointing to the spot where the large mirror used to hang.
“Uh… I was painting.” Irving’s voice shook. “I didn’t want to get paint on it.”
“Covering the reminder is a class six crime, punishable by no less than 100 hours in the reeducation booth.”
Irving collapsed, sobbing. The Robot Valerie closest to him reached up and yanked the cloth down, exposing a video screen. Though she hadn’t been able to see any real details before, Astrid could tell that this was the same face that was on the giant screen by the monorail station. Only the head and shoulders of the woman, who was wearing a stiff-collared military style uniform was visible. Her strawberry blond hair was cut short, like a boy’s, and parted on the side. Though pretty, in a hard sort of way, and wearing a modest amount of makeup, a scar ran from her forehead down her left cheek to her chin, marring her face. Whatever had caused that scar had obviously cost her an eye, because while her right eye was large and bright blue, a glowing red robotic eye replaced her left one.
“She looks a little like my mother,” thought Astrid.
And then the woman on the screen spoke.
“I am Supreme Ruler Astrid Maxxim. All will bow before me!”
“What?” yelled Astrid.
“She said to bow down!” growled one of the robots, grabbing the girl inventor by the shoulders and pushing her down.
Astrid screamed as she hit the floor.