Marvin got the call from the producer’s office and knew it couldn’t be good. He put the phone down and headed out to get it over with. The show was airing in two hours, so they must want to make changes. That was always bad.
“So, what’s the story?” Marvin believed in cutting to the chase.
Malcolm Peters made a show of lighting his cigar, as he looked Marvin over. “The story, Marvin, is that the ratings are in. We need to jazz things up.” He let that sink in and then continued. “I have some new choices for your contestant tonight.”
Marvin didn’t like where this was going. “Why new choices? These are legit, are they?” He figured he knew the answer but he had to ask.
“Look Marvin,” Malcolm said as he leaned across the table, “Your job is to follow the script. The contestants sign a waiver.”
Right then. This was ugly. Marvin wanted with every ounce of his being to get up and quit right then and there, but he needed this job. He rose with a sinking feeling in the pit of him stomach and picked up the new script. He adjusted his silk tie and turned his back without further comment.
Back in his office he thought about how this had all come about. Time travel had been cracked in 2034, but it had been kept under wraps for a couple of years until it could be determined that it could be done without altering the fabric of reality. Only travel into the past was possible. The major worry had always been that if someone went in to the past and changed something that it would alter the future and possibly wipe out everything. By 2037 a way of isolating events so that only the present of the individual who travelled back would be changed. How that worked only a handful of people knew. It was dangerous information.
Given that it was not possible to alter the present of anyone but the time traveller, it was deemed wise to use the ability only for humanitarian purposes, but now, in 2068 things were different. Society had become bored with holographic adventures and all the other forms of entertainment that were available. Some bright spark hit on the idea of a game show where the contestant could choose between two conflicting choices in his past that had gone unresolved and go back and choose one instead of doing nothing, which had led to their present life. If he chose right his present would be changed for the better, and he would win the money. If he chose wrong, he could end up worse off in the present. Or dead. Until now, they had only let that happen a couple of times to keep things interesting. They could chart the trajectory of the travellers life to determine what each outcome would be and offer choices that wouldn’t drastically alter the persons life. But now…well, Marvin didn’t care to think about it. He went to makeup to prep for the show.
The lights went down, the seconds were counted down, four, three, two…and…
“Welcome to another edition of…” The audience chanted on cue, “Change Your Life!” Marvin grinned into the camera. “Please welcome tonight’s contestant, Bradley Johnston!” The crowd went wild as Brad walked hesitantly onto the stage and took his place behind the podium.
“Hey there Brad! Are you ready to change your life?” Marvin hoped it would be for the better.
“Um, hi Marvin. Yeah, i’m ready.” His demeanor said otherwise, but Marvin carried on.
“Great! You know how the game is played. We’re going to send you back to a time in your life when you faced two conflicting choices and didn’t decide because it was just too difficult, but if you want the money, you’ll have to decide this time. We have no way of knowing how your choice will affect you, Brad. We only know that when you reappear on stage, you’ll be changed in some fundamental way because of the choice you’ve made. That’s what we’re all waiting to see. Make it back alive, and you win the cash, regardless of how you’ve changed.”
“Now Brad, here is the situation we’re sending you back to, see if you can remember it. When you were fourteen years old you were playing ball in the street with some friends. You saw a car coming at high speed, which seemed to be out of control. It was heading right for a friend of yours. You were trying to decide between yelling out to him, hoping he would get out of the way in time, or running over and pushing him out of the way and trying to avoid getting hit. Brad, you froze. Your friend was hit, but fortunately got off with a broken leg. Now, Brad, you’re going back, and this time you have to act. What will it be Brad? You have twenty seconds to decide while we put you in the time machine and the countdown to your past begins.”
“But, Marvin, I…”
Marvin motioned for the crew to take Brad to the time machine, he knew what was puzzling Brad, this was not the situation he’s been advised they would be sending him back to. This was the change they had made to spice things up. Marvin tried not to think about what the wrong choice would mean.
The time machine was activated and the audience waited in wide-eyed wonder, everyone on the edge of their seats for Brad’s return to see how he would be changed. In the past contestants had come back virtually unchanged physically, but with profoundly different personalities, and some had come back looking much stronger, smaller, older looking, younger looking, any number of changes, with a different history and a different outlook on life. No one had ever been unchanged by the experience of going back. A couple had not returned at all, meaning they had died. That had been kept to a deliberate minimum; just enough to keep the game interesting and generating profit, but now…Marvin needed to know. On his podium were the projected outcomes of both of Brad’s choices. While they went to a commercial break he opened the envelope.
He hid his nausea from the audience like a pro. He smiled as they counted down the return to live air. Inwardly he prayed that Brad had made the right choice. As they went live again the announcer heralded Brad’s return. “And now, heeeerrrr’s Brad!”
Marvin moved to the door of the time machine. “Alright everyone, shall we see what choice Brad made and what’s become of him?” The audience roared their approval. Marvin took a deep breath and opened the door.
There before them was a broken man. The audience gasped in horror. Brad was a wasted, crippled man, obviously suffering the effects of a debilitating disease. He looked at Marvin with a mixture of pain and anger, but said nothing. Marvin felt like he would pass out, but held it together for the camera. As a hush came over the room, he spoke to the audience and camera with a pained look.
“Brad chose to run and push his friend out of the way. Apparently he’s regretted not doing that his entire life. Unfortunately that choice led to his being hit by the car himself. His injuries caused him to come down with Fibromyalgia, a debilitating disease of the musculature.” He turned to the wasted form of Brad. “We’re sorry Brad. But you’ve won the money, so you’re set for life.”
The audience broke into wild applause and Malcolm Peters gave him the thumbs up from the sidelines. The ratings would be secure for another week. Brad finished the show and when he was sure they were off air he walked over to where Malcolm stood waiting to congratulate him. Without a word he hit him with a right hook that knocked him out cold. He then walked calmly off the set.