In the far future, mankind loses the ability to reproduce. To keep humanity from dying out, the governments of the world send special agents called "Preventers" back in time to our present, to abduct our infants to populate the future...
By the mid-twenty-second century, all of mankind had fallen victim to an incurable airborne plague that prevented successful childbirth, a plague that had become part of the planet’s very atmosphere.
With humanity doomed to die out within the current generation, the governments of the world became desperate for a way to save our species. Finally, one day the United States successfully built the world’s first Alternate Time Transporter.
Each major country in the world was given an A.T.T., and thus was born the Preventers: specially trained agents whose job was to travel into the past and abduct children who could be raised as the next generation in our world.
This operation must constantly be repeated, for every child that comes into the future automatically catches the plague.
So it has been for decades…
Grisham McGrath sat in the booth, every inch of him soaked and shivering. He had just entered the restaurant seconds ago, coming out of the terrible downpour occurring outside. His thick brown long-coat was dripping all over the seat, and he had to keep wiping water from his eyes as droplets flowed from his grey hair. McGrath stared out the window by the booth, looking at the cars speeding past. He then spied out of the corner of his eyes an elderly waitress approaching his booth. She came up to him, smiling pleasantly, as she quipped, “Can I get you a coffee, sir? You look like you need something warm.”
McGrath just gave her a tiny nod, and the lady disappeared. A moment later, she came back with a porcelain cup and a pot of steaming coffee, and poured for him. He took the cup without a word, and she asked, “Would you like to order? We’ve got the Senior Shrimp-Soup special, the Three-Fish sandwich, the Turkey-and-Potatoes platter-”
McGrath had just been about to not-too-respectfully inform her of his need to be alone, when a tall, elderly black man wearing a blue business suit suddenly came up to the booth, and dryly said, “He’ll take the soup. It’s on me.”
McGrath scowled, as the visitor sat down across from him. The waitress asked him, “For you, sir?” The man waved a hand dismissively, as he said, “I’ll be alright. Just here to talk to this bum,” and the woman trotted off. Upon seeing McGrath’s unhappy expression, the man chuckled, “Good to see you too, Grish.”
McGrath’s voice was his usual gravelly growl, as he muttered, “It’s been only six years, Tom. If you don’t mind, I’d like to have my retirement last at least ten before you force me to come back.”
Thomas Glassburg smirked, as he snatched McGrath’s cup and took a sip, making McGrath scowl even further. “Sorry, pal. Once a Preventer, always a Preventer. You can’t simply walk away from a job like that and expect to pull off a normal life. Especially when pushing 60.”
McGrath rolled his eyes. “Figured it was worth a shot.”
Glassburg nodded sarcastically, as he handed the cup back to McGrath. “Uh-huh. So tell me, how’s it been working for ya? I hear you don’t have a job anymore. Pretty tough to find in this economy.”
“I’ll figure something out.”
“The hell you will. There are people with goddamn NASA-level minds out there who can’t find work. You think someone like you stands a chance? You’re good at one thing, and one thing only, Grish: Working. For. Us.”
McGrath slurped from his cup, before saying, “What do you need me for? Why not get some newbie?”
“You were the best, Grish, don’t deny it. You’re a legend, practically a god amongst the guys in the group. Every Preventer saw you as their standard. They still do.” He then quietly added, “And incidentally, we do have a new kid on the payroll. A girl, in fact.”
McGrath sighed. “Did she forget that she was taken from the past?”
“Of course not. You know the drill, Grish. Every kid we take from the past is told where they came from the minute they reach maturity. Amazingly, she pretty much accepted it without trouble.”
McGrath rubbed his hair, still very damp, as he muttered, “That’s rare. Usually the past-born lose their minds for a while.”
“So, here’s the problem we’re facing: Kid is pretty good in training sessions. Seems to have most of the basic tenants of the occupation down pat. All except for the biggest one, which is that a Preventer must be totally detached during a mission.”
McGrath raised his eyebrows. “She can’t suppress her feelings?”
“The worst thing a Preventer can do is allow their personal emotions to interfere with their work. We can’t have Preventers being sent back to snatch babies, only for them to suddenly get some crisis of conscience at the last second and abandon the mission. If they all did that, we’d never be able to bring kids back to this time. Then mankind would be well and truly screwed.”
“It probably doesn’t help that she’s female…”
Glassburg sighed. “We don’t need misogyny right now, Grish. What we need is a veteran, someone with experience who can take the girl on a mission and show her how it’s done. Show her the way the job works. You go to the past, find the baby, grab it, run, and get back to the place of arrival before trouble finds you.”
McGrath refused to look Glassburg in the eyes, as he growled, “Well, it won’t be me. I promised myself I’d never return to that life.”
Glassburg leaned forward, his face intense. “Come on, Grish. This job is all about saving the human race. Don’t tell me you don’t want to be a hero.”
McGrath was about to retort, when the waitress returned, placing a large bowl of white creamy liquid with chunks of shrimp inside. She said, “Enjoy, sir,” and then walked away. McGrath stared at the soup with apprehension, and then saw Glassburg’s waiting look. He sighed.
“Tom, I didn’t used to be like this. I was once quite the social animal, remember? Now look at me! This is what that job did to me.” McGrath added very softly, “And it’s the biggest regret that I have.”
Glassburg looked shocked, as he stared at McGrath, who took a tentative slurp of the soup, and instantly spat it back out into the bowl.
“Grish, you never cease to amaze me. Since when did you become Mr. Angst?”
McGrath scowled. “Since I left.”
Glassburg shook his head, amused.
McGrath screwed up his face, and forced himself to eat the soup. A few minutes of silence passed, in which the two men did not look at each other. McGrath kept slurping the gross concoction, and Glassburg stared at the ceiling in intense thought. At last, he let out a defeated sigh, and said, “Well, Grish, you disappoint me. I thought for sure you’d be secretly itching to return to the business. But it sounds to me like you’ve gone all self-conscious on us, and we can’t very well have some ne’er-do well going into the past.”
He stood up, straightening his suit, and continued, “Shame, because I really could have helped you out, financially. This economy is a bitch, and if you think that you can just…wait it out, then my friend, you’re stupider than I remember.”
McGrath watched as Glassburg turned, and walked away. He absentmindedly swirled the soup with his spoon, and thought hard. It only took five seconds before he muttered, “Bastard,” and abruptly leaped out of the booth. He ran toward the exit, where Glassburg had just gone through. McGrath ignored the yell of “Sir! You forgot to pay!” and pushed through the door and outside, where the rain instantly began pelting him. He yelled, “Tom!”
Glassburg, a few feet ahead of him, stopped instantly, and turned. His expression was smug. McGrath stormed up to him, and growled, “If I do this, I need you to guarantee something.”
“What would that be, pray tell?”
McGrath gave Glassburg a condescending smirk.
“No taxes…for life.”