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Protocol

Protocol is clear. I can't tell anyone what happened after I landed, not ever. Letting slip even the smallest detail could change the future. They chose me because I can keep a secret. I can keep my mouth shut. At least this secret won't have to be kept long.
One month. That's all it's going to take. They would want to know but who am I to say that would be better? I'm the low man. I do what I'm told and above all else, I keep my mouth shut.
The technicians in the lab had the hard part. They built the machine. All I had to do was push the glowing green button on the console and I'd be off. Once I landed, I was to wait until a tech (probably the same that sent me off) opened the door, confirmed I was alive, and closed the door again. The yellow button would bring me back. No words would need to be exchanged. The less I knew about the future, the less I would have to keep secret.
The technician never opened the door when I landed. I had to do that myself. I was authorized to look out from the machine but was told to never, under any circumstances, step outside. I didn't have to. I thought the time might have been wrong. Maybe I was early and they weren't expecting me.
I was right on time. The location was right but there was no one there to greet me. I don't think there was anyone left who could have. The lab was destroyed. I had landed in a pile of rubble.
Something was still alive; I figured that out quickly enough. Something flew overhead and shook the ground moments after I opened the door. A building collapsed somewhere I could not see. I could hear something heavy walking in what was left of the street.
I don't know what happened. I didn't leave the machine to find out. I'm not authorized to leave until after I've completed the return trip.
I pushed the yellow button, skipping over that important step of checking in, and came back.
This time, the door opened. The technician who had been wishing me a safe journey just minutes before stood there grinning. The time machine worked. I heard cheering coming from the lab. Officers in green uniforms with too many medals shook each other's hands and grinned from ear to ear.
Nobody asked what I saw; they all know they aren't supposed to. In less than a month they'll all know anyway. At least it won't take long. I won't have to keep this secret forever.
I'll keep my mouth shut. That's protocol.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 6th, 2020
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