The Knight and the Barista
By Reese Walker
Posted on October 30, 2022
Cover image title: Time Travel
Cover image by: EK
Specifications: Digital, 3000px by 3000px, 600 DPI
I can’t say I asked to discover timetravel.
I certainly did not ask to get fired.
This was not on my bingo card for a Wednesday evening. As my late lottery-winning grandma once told me, “Do not waste your luck, Mir. You are the future, not the present.” Not even my know-it-all mother could decipher her riddles.
A man, whose tuxedo looked like a knight’s breastplate, strolled up to the counter. He had dreamy eyes and a Greek nose; he had perfectly toned skin that sparkled in the daylight. I wondered if he belonged in our timeline.
He ordered a large Americano Latte with no ice. My hand shook in his presence. I was supposed to hand it to him.
The next thing I knew, coffee covered him from head to toe. And the large empty coffee cup remained in my hand. The lid remained on the counter.
His brow furrowed. “My apologies, sir,” I stuttered. My tongue refused to obey me once this ‘man in shining armor’ walked in. “I’ll bring you a replacement right away.”
“Don’t you spill it again,” he chuckled, a mysterious tone rolling off his tongue. His voice was sharp like a double-edged sword. I slipped into the back room.
Before I could fix him another drink, my manager, Catalina, told me to remove my apron. I received a lecture on Captain’s Donuts ‘customer appreciation policy’. The first time is an accident, the second is a coincidence and the third is a pattern. This was the fifth time I’d spilled a precious drink on a customer.
I was officially unemployed.
I escaped into the basement’s supply closet to cry. I’d do what I could to avoid seeing the now coffee-less man. Not only was I a klutz, but a terrible flirt. I’m sure the chest-plated man had left by this hour; traffic and a snowstorm weren’t a pretty combination.
The month of February never treated me kindly. The basement’s AC system only turned on in the winter, and the mops looked like the ghosts of my angry ex-customers.
Both my parents were on vacation for the week, which meant no car for me. I’d lost my bus pass to the sewer grate, who has a mouth like Pacman. I had no way home, and plenty of time to mourn the loss of my minimum wage job.
My plan for after graduation was to get a full-time job, and then off to university. I had small hopes for a potential partner, but that backfired when I spilled coffee on him.
I was supposed to figure out my “dream job of a lifetime,” as my father would say. When I was younger, I said I would sail the seven seas. The next day, he had built me a ship out of cardboard.
I chuckled at the thought of him seeing me now, in a horror movie’s basement, with snot flooding out my nose. I’ll be grounded for an extra week when they’re back.
Only people who’ve ever had a mop fall on their head while weeping in a closet know where this is going. In the dark, you can see how one might have mistaken a water-filled janitor’s rolling bucket for a stool. A lot went through my mind while falling through a bucket of water as the wooden broom conked my tear-streaked head.
Time stretched itself until I was pulled under its current. Thrown into an abyss, I was no more than a puppet in the hands of the remote control. Someone else pressed fast-forward. And then pause.
I woke up with not only a black eye and a headache, but with a lack of an explanation for my blurred surroundings. Exhibit A, a desert city.
I felt grains of sand shift beneath me, sucking me in. Like quicksand, I felt as if I was still falling. The world was too bright for my eyes. Perhaps this was the end.
“Well, you should not be alive.” The looming voice was unfamiliar, much like the world around me. Both strong and elegant, its accent slid through the words like a snake in the grass.
I recoiled in shock. “Excuse me?” The drum of a throbbing headache mirrored the song of the sirens. The gash along my side looked more like a Red Sea, and I was a sailor with a bruise for an eye patch.
My vision blurred reality. I could only make out shapes on the horizon, along with a person disgustingly close to me. “I never would have dreamed of meeting history’s famous Mirai Arvad.” He held a shield, yet this knight was the opposite of medieval.
Like a Greek statue, skin darker than the sand, and eyes that could be mistaken for green. I almost doubted he was human. Perhaps my half-swollen shut-eye didn’t see this god correctly.
“You shouldn't know my name,” I said. Apparently, my brain wasn’t as clear as I thought. Maybe I was hallucinating.
He winked. “Name tag.” My name was on full display, but my full name was not. “I also studied you in school.” A knight and a scholar? Impossible.
The real question was, who would teach the life of a pathetic excuse for a barista in any class? Instead of harping on that thought, I decided to take in the surrounding environment around me. It was not a cleaning supplies closet.
Sand dunes cut into the sky, with teetering buildings erupting from mountains. I was convinced the wind had a vendetta against anything standing. The city had drowned in sand, as if all the Caribbean beaches had their coasts dumped on this very desert.
Then, there were the soldiers, sand soldiers, to be specific. They were scattered across the opening, I could not distinguish the two sides. Every one of them was accompanied by a digital hoverboard to soar over the trenches. They had force field-like helmets and blasts of fire that seemed to come from their wrists. My brother would’ve drooled at the sight of this, like any true nerd. From the towers, forces struck sand soldiers below, like ducks at a carnival.
The mystery man did not match their uniform, he had what one might describe as a galactic yet military-like suit with what could’ve been a floating backpack. This man knelt over me and tended to a future map of scars along my rib cage. A knight, a scholar, and a doctor? Impossible.
A massive portal was rapidly shrinking above us. The beloved Captain’s Donuts janitor could be seen through its corner. Jeffrey wouldn’t have bothered to pay any mind to another realm full of more dust. A Star Wars-esque spacecraft was gliding towards him. Scientifically advanced potential aliens, invading the donut shop would not be good.
A ship like the Millennium Falcon was seeking revenge on my ex-co-workers was not the worst thing going on at the moment. “Where is this?”
The man smirked again. “Good question. A better question would be ‘when is this’? ” My eyes touched the back of my head. Of course, I knew what year it was. In fact, I owned a highly organized calendar, in contrast to my laundry-as-carpet bedroom. “You are on Earth, if that is what you are wondering.”
I doubted it. My Earth probably evolved into the lore of those futuristic movies. Highways in the sky. Cars run on electricity. Buildings functioning purely on solar power. Robots rule the world. Species brought back from the brink of endangerment. World hunger and poverty solved. Equity for all. Everything we ever needed. Except the robots, maybe.
This Earth appeared to have accomplished all of our goals before destroying them all in a desert war.
The space trooper surgeon gave me what might’ve been medicine. Hopefully, it will stop the bruising. And my flayed ribs. The curls of his shadow-like hair were tucked behind his elf-like ears. He surprisingly didn’t faint at the disgusting mass of blood seeping out of my body. “If you were still wondering, it’s the 30th century, the year of 3023.”
I spat out the pain killer, or possible poison. Curiosity flooded my brain. “Why is everyone still fighting? Whose side are you on? Who are you?” Nerves slipped through my lips. “How do I get home? Why is there a portal? Did the aliens invade us? Did the internet die? WHAT?” I started to hyperventilate. My abdomen stitched shut after a rapid recovery protested my sharp breaths.
He dropped a clear liquid down my throat. I’d probably pass out, not solely from the amount of blood. “No time for questions, we got to keep moving.” Rude.
He scooped me up in one motion like he was some prince, and I was the damsel in distress. Okay, I was a little bit stressed. Not that I asked for any help. I was an independently injured woman. Every muscle in my body fought to stay awake in his arms. In protest, my consciousness started to fade out yet again.
“Where… where are we?” I propped myself up on one elbow. I think traveling a thousand years ahead gave me some permanent brain damage.
“Sleeping Beauty speaks!” He sighed. If only I could have slept for a century.
I grinned. “You think I’m beautiful?” I said, brushing the sand out of my hair.
“I think you sleep too much,” he said. Time wasn’t a concern for a person from the future.
“I don’t even know your name,” I said, an offer for him to explain anything.
“Emilio,” he replied. “Emilio Nayeli.” He should’ve introduced himself as James Bond, with an alien name. Or with a ‘sir’ at the start, to fit his knightly persona.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t pull off a James Bond intro if he already knew my name. “May I ask you a question?”
“You’ve spent all your questions. Pay me one of your ancient monetary coins,” he joked, as he pulled the corner of his mouth into another grin. I tossed him a tip left over from my jeans. Maybe he’ll put it in their museums if they weren’t also crumbled to dust. Either way, I’d get it back.
I put my weight against the wall. I could smell the dehydration in the air. Global warming really did get the better of them. Thank god we sat in a shaded area.
The witty knight still hadn’t told me more than his name. “Why are you helping me?”
He hid behind a smile. “Can I say ‘to be a Good Samaritan?” If only he had worked in customer service, he could’ve grown a theatrical bone to fake his kindness.
“That’s not worth a quarter,” I teased. I reached to snatch the coin back. The force of utter pain froze me mid-effort. It wouldn’t stop me from squeezing answers out of him.
The coin flipped in the air, with a flick of his thumbs. It landed on the back of his hand. I caught sight of George Washington. Heads. “Fine. A mission,” he mutters.
I crossed my arms. “That is still not worth it.” It doesn’t seem legit, especially in the middle of a literal war. “I won’t ask again, where are we?”
He gestured towards the end of the tunnel. “UTOFT,” he announced solemnly.
I stared at him blankly. “You-what?”
“U-T-O-F-T. The Universal Time Obstruction of Future Travel…?” I gave him another puzzled look. “This organization controls all time travel, and you discovered it at 7:24 PM on February 13th, 2023..” He sounded quite pleased with himself. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I did not understand a word he said. Did I discover time travel? That can’t be. After being fired? And almost tripping over my career paths? Impossible.
“Are you some outer-space stalker?” I asked.
He pondered for a second. “Aren’t all scientists?” A scientist too? God help me. I might just faint again. “Alright, get up. It’s time to open another wormhole and get you home.” …Wormhole? If I had to turn into a worm, how would I get anywhere?
He lent me a hand, or rather two arms to help. Given my newly stitched injuries and a lack of iron in my veins, I could not get up. And chivalry was always appreciated.
A misty, floating circle lay ahead, plastered to the dead end. Identical to the one in the basement’s closet. The ‘wormhole’ of time travel. It was easy to miss between all the back-allies, sand and it was the relative size of my palm. Its outline glowed pink and reflected on our faces, with eerie darkness inside of it.
I stared at the wormhole in awe. “So… how do I do it again? The last time was just an accident. I was crying one second, fell into a bucket the next, and BOOM! I’m falling again, into a desert.”
He fumbled through his floating backpack in response. I didn’t have time to waste. I’d better figure out if I really discovered time travel.
I sprinted. The circle grew by the second. Until it was as tall as I was. It grabbed me with invisible arms, pulling me into a deadly embrace.
I lost all my senses. The void-like portal was pushing me out the other side in slow-motion. Maybe it lacked oxygen. Maybe I stopped breathing for a minute.
Time was lacking. It could’ve been an hour, or thirty seconds to travel through. Suddenly, I was being sucked like a vacuum to the opposite end. My body did cartwheels, while my breakfast did somersaults.
Then I was through.
Someone would have to pay me to do that again. More than a quarter. My life might’ve been lost somewhere in that portal, along with my sanity.
Then Emilio fell through the portal thingy. For a person with such grace with words, he had little grace on his feet. Or off his feet, rather.
“How… did… you do that all by yourself?” He huffed, brushing himself off. His floating backpack followed him like a pet. Maybe it hid his coat of arms. I could only guess what mysteries of the future hid inside.
The wormhole that Einstein-of-the-future tripped through had closed in on itself. Who knew it could travel through time and walls? “A magician never reveals their secrets,” I said as he huffed again. “So, dearest expert, what is your glorious plan?” I asked, curious about what this ‘mission’ was. For all I knew, I was living inside a supernatural spy movie.
“You’ll see,” he said. “Follow me. I have an offer.” Another mystery I couldn’t solve. Oh, the suspense! Business papers and black pens to sign them.
I gestured down the hall of steel. “Any door will do.” Door after door down the endless hall. It was like a prison. Not that I had been in one.
Footsteps sounded down the hall. It is unmistakable, yet quiet. The annoyingly rhythmic tapping of high heels. Do those even exist anymore? The figure came closer. I could almost see its face. Why do they need people to work? As far as I could tell, it was a woman. Her curves were symmetrical, her hair tied back, but I could see her ponytail swinging back and forth with each step. Her face came into view. Plain, yet perfect. Her dark skin contrasted her golden hair, like the moon and the night sky. Except for her eyes. They were red. A devil’s red. And they were fixed on me.
“Emilio? Who is that?” I shuddered. He was too busy rifling through a stack of papers that had magically appeared out of nowhere.
The closer she got, the clearer she was. I could see her pupils zoning in and out as if she was setting her focus on me.
“Um, hi. I-” My breath caught. Her smile remained in place along with the tilt of her head, as if she were a doll straight from a Stephen King novel. “We were just looking for… the offer?” I just sounded dumb.
Her pupils glowed blue at the sound of my voice. “Human identified. Mirai Arvad. Time-traveler.” Why do the people I meet know everything about me? “Member of UTOFT. Contract confirmed on February 13th, 3023.”
“Excuse me?” Not this alien business again. I wasn’t buying into all the “you traveled to the future of Earth, which is a complete disaster” stuff. Actually, I paid a quarter.
Emilio spoke up. “Oh, greetings Elisa. We were en route to the room.” Ilisa? There were more people? Or, robots, perhaps.
She led us through the maze of halls and doors. We took three rights and two lefts and headed straight until a red door appeared with the number 251. She waved her dominant arm over her other hand, a golden key grew from her finger. It twisted and altered itself to fit the keyhole. The door swung through with little resistance, despite the fact that it was made of pure steel.
Emilio stood inside near the exit, like one of the Queen’s guards.
Ilisa handed me a pen. Pushing the stack of papers forwards she said, “Sign here.” They had a paper in the future? Did we not find a solution to killing forests? “We specifically engineered a printer for your arrival.” Wow, I wasn’t that special. Reading the ‘terms & conditions’ was overrated. My signature was more lopsided than I had intended.
“Wonderful.” She pulled out another piece of paper and forced it into my closed palm. “This is your mission. Do not let another human know of it.”
She pressed one of the many buttons on her forearm; a black circle flew from it to the wall. It had the familiar pink border and an endless window inside of it to the other “time” portals. I took one last look at Emilio, who smiled goodbye. I jumped through it, without a second thought.
History loves to repeat itself. The dreadful hot pink uniform hung over my neck. I smelled of caffeine. My ponytail was pulled back far enough to give me a migraine. Catalina’s voice could be heard from the back room. If only I was Marty McFly, this would be a different story.
I unfolded the piece of paper still in my hands. Prevent the discovery of time travel on Earth.
Okay, I thought to myself. How do I do that? Maybe I’ll start by avoiding getting fired, again.
The mystery of the future distracted me from the man on the other side of the cashier. “Excuse me, may I take you out for coffee?”
I glanced at the knight without a horse. “Yes,” I replied.
He grinned. “Don’t you spill it again.”
* The End *
[Writing Editor: Min Ji Choi]