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The Day He Said Thank You

by Liam024


To James, there was this constant nagging feeling that something was left unaccomplished. That something in the past had been done wrong. Was the bitter taste regret? Regret seemed to be the right descriptor. He just couldn’t identify what it was that bothered him so much.

Turning back to his work desktop, he resumed working on the autopilot software for the soon-to-be-released facelifted Model S. His boss sent an impending request for him to operate a major tweak in lines 400 to 1,000, which was one of the numerous sections that enabled safer A.I. driving at intersections and red lights. And thus began his 14-hour daily shift of working from 7 in the morning until 9 p.m. It was his 2,579th day of regular 14 hours a day work at Tesla, and the health complications were starting to show themselves. Did he have enough of this nonsense? Probably yes. Wanting to take a break from the loop, he sent a mail to the project manager to request the wellness day that was only given once a year and take a day off. Let that project code itself, because James wasn’t approaching his work desk anytime soon.

Just to be sure that his work has been saved, he downloaded the still not entirely fixed lines of code into a compact USB stick from the computer and tucked it into his shirt pocket. "It's not like I'm going to have to use this half-baked thing of a project anytime soon," he reassured himself.

When he opened his front door, an old-school paper letter was waiting to be opened on the doorsill. As he picked it up, the first thing that stood out were the initials of his old best friend: AB, Albert Browning. The content was short but impactful:

Dear friend, I’ll be straightforward: I’ve landed myself in a pile of legal troubles because I’ve somehow been set up by my own defense attorney. To be exact, he purposefully used the wrong personal pronoun. Now a shady loan shark company wants me to disappear, my neck is on the line, and I know that I cannot avoid it. When you don’t see me around anymore, go to the hidden location with the coordinates I included in this letter, and make good use of the car that you find there. I apologize and thank you at the same time. I have faith in you.

AB

Startled, James stood staring at the paper with enough intensity to burn a crisp hole through it. Maybe something was up, as he recently noticed that Browning’s Facebook account had not been online for much of the past month; a strange thing, considering how the green online indicator was always next to his best friend’s profile. With a frown, James decided maybe it was time to make a visit to his old friend.

Saturday at 6 a.m., he dressed up in his casual blue jeans and white button-down shirt, started the ignition, and pulled out of his driveway. Heading from San Francisco to Albert’s flat in Monterey, the journey took a little more than two hours on Central Fwy. Putting the car to park, James stepped out of his car and came across a large mahogany door. Ringing the doorbell, he waited for his friend’s voice to greet him—only to be met by empty silence. Unwilling to believe that he had wasted two hours to visit a friend who wouldn’t open up, he was even more surprised to be confronted by an angry voice from the intercom.

“Who you?” An unusually gruff voice that did not match that of Albert unpleasantly greeted him. Then again, it has been a decade.

“Do you, sir, by any chance, recognize the name, Albert Browning?”

“Nay, no idea what you’re talking about.”

James was unimpressed but also intrigued by the sudden, unexpected turn of events. As if a sudden light bulb had turned on inside his head, he remembered the coordinates in the letter and didn’t waste a single second to get behind the wheel again.

It was nightfall by the time he stood before a grand warehouse the size of a small factory. He didn’t know what to make of it; no windows were lit, and the area seemed rather too silent and dark for his liking. The good news, though, was that whoever last used this place forgot to lock it up.

Stepping inside, he came across a giant, complex machinery which spanned across much of the entire walls and ceilings in the form of thick, black wires and what appeared to be industrial power cabinets. Plenty of what can be only described as ‘insane things’ existed there: the ‘teleforce’ which could supposedly bring down a fleet of planes from a distance of 200 miles; the ‘omniscient glow’ which was a device that creates a concentrated beam of bright light to temporarily disorient whoever it is aimed at; and a baseball grenade which he didn’t bother reading the description for the fear of it exploding.

But most importantly, he saw a matte-silver colored aluminum-body car that sat squat in the middle of the whole shebang. A rather radically styled 2-door 80s car, it had wires attached to the front and side, connecting to the two box-things near the taillights. Even the doors opened ridiculously, going upward like a gull’s wings than the traditional sideway method. Inside, the interior was rather cramped due to a nuclear reactor taking up space of the rear portion of the armrest and behind. Apparently, it powered the car.

Once in, James ignited the engine by turning the key, and for once, things worked like a normal car. Ahead of him lay a long stretch of an empty hallway for what looked like half a mile, which seemed impossible as the exterior of the warehouse factory was far smaller than that.

The infotainment system alerted him to choose a date. By default, it was set on July 3rd, 1985. One of the instructions in his friend’s letter told him to adjust the dial to five years prior to his death, 2030. But he now understood the motives behind Browning’s plan. Should he do as he was told? After all, this car he was inside wasn’t even his to begin with. Or, would he do it? It was also entirely his choice. Would he help his ‘friend’ who ditched him at his own house? Reaching out to the dial knob, he turned the dial—to 2004, 2012, and 2030—and back to 2028, before he ever worked at Tesla Motors.

Pressing confirm, the infotainment system displayed one word: “accelerate,” and he stepped on the gas. In an instant, the acceleration pinned his entire body was pressed flat to his seat. The speedometer now indicated 60 miles per hour. As the needle in the gauge rapidly climbed up to 88 mph, something miraculous happened: dazzling streaks of blue and white light flashed and his surroundings exploded into whiteness.

Slowly, the white nothingness faded to an environment, revealing an unfamiliar environment. Turning his head left and right, James found himself in the middle of a busy street with tall, sleek glass buildings: Upper East Side, Manhattan. His hometown!

“Excuse me, ma’am, is it 2028 this year?” An odd but necessary question.

“No, 2023,” the woman he asked replied, looking up from her phone to give him a well-deserved frown. She was still using the discontinued iPhone 15, so perhaps he really was in 2023 again.

Quite a strange occurrence it was; he thought that he had set the dial to 2028. Feeling his forehead and the skin under his eyes, he chuckled at the sad realization that his age had remained the same even though he was in the past.

Still, something about that middle-aged woman was familiar, even though he had just met her. Deciding and then again deciding against himself, he struggled the urge to catch up to the woman again and get a better look at her face. Finally, he gave in and ran up to her with a tap on her shoulder.

“Sir what do you think you are—” Her speech stopped mid-sentence. The expression on her face shifted from disgust to astonishment, then back to neutral, all in a split-second moment. As if composing herself, she began again. “I haven’t introduced myself properly. My name is Jane Handler.”

“I…my name is Logan Handler,” James awkwardly fumbled.

“What a coincidence! We both have the same last name.” They exchanged a handshake.

“I’ll tell you what, you sure do resemble someone.” Jane continued in a surprised tone.

“Might I ask who that would be?” asked Logan, although he already knew the answer to that question very well. Good thing that he looked old or his cover would have been blown.

“Let’s see… ah, yes, your sharp features are reminiscent of my son,” she replied. “Speaking of my son, I also remember his best friend Albert. I wonder what happened to him.”

A stab of guilt filled Logan’s stomach. But before he could dwell on that, a voice yelled.

“Jane! I’m about to leave on our road trip if you don’t come here this instant!” They both turned to see who was shouting. “Who’s that you’re talking to?”

Jane, flustered, hurried to introduce the men to each other. “John, this is Logan. His last name is also Handler, and we just happened to have a conversation.” John looked Logan up and down, and Logan maintained professional eye contact. “Logan, this is John, my husband.” The two men grinned and shook hands.

“Seems like an interesting fellow, this man.” Something about the way the wrinkles formed next to John’s eyes when he smiled in that good-natured manner seemed to cause an ache for Logan. He just had to avert his eye to somewhere else, else mist might gather in his eyes.

“Is that a Tesla?” Logan asked as the sleek white sedan behind John came into focus.

“Indeed, that’s our proud newly purchased family car, though it’s a little too sad that our son left for college right after the purchase.” A set of complex emotions seemed to be behind his eyes when he said this, which Logan quite couldn’t describe. Regrets, maybe. “Well, at least he went to a good one: Stanford!”

“Stanford it is!” With Jane’s laugh, the mood was restored.

“Speaking of Teslas, I actually work there,” added Logan. To be authentic, he flashed his employee badge from the future, thus bringing a string of questions from the couple.

“Jane, the day just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?” Grinned John. “So why not give us a tour of my ride, if you don’t mind?”

Which James did. His smooth talking and basic salesman skills instinctively flowed out of him, as if the curb had just turned into a showroom. An hour already flew by.

“I must apologize for taking up too much of your time, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this magnificent experience with you today!” Said John while stretching his arms a little. “And you yourself don’t look that much older than my son. Might I ask who the fine parents of yours are?”

Logan couldn’t bear it anymore. To stop his eyes from welling with tears, he quickly and stoically replied, “Yes, my late parents.”

The atmosphere once again quickly became awkward. To divert the conversation, John made an ahem and replied, “We’re going out on a road trip today. As a courtesy, we can drop you off in a nearby location.”

“Sure, at the 86th Street subway station after you take a right from Park Avenue.”

All of a sudden, the car refused to start. But Logan had a solution: the USB he pocketed back home.

As he plugged the USB stick containing the autopilot A.I. data into a port below the infotainment screen, a bright white Tesla logo filled the screen. Before he knew it, an electric hum was filling the interior.

“That’s my man, I knew you weren’t lying about being a Tesla engineer,” thanked John.

While riding in the backseat in silence, Logan tried to recall what his last interaction with his parents was before he left for college. The smooth vibration and white noise from the cabin slowly filled his brain, and the weight of his eyelids sliding down his dry eyes was too heavy to resist. In a matter of minutes, his body went limp.

“Good luck out there, son. Let me brush your hair for one last--”

“Please, just let it be, mother,” said James as he nudged her hand out of the way.

His father loaded the last suitcase into the cab’s trunk. James was now ready to move out.

“So, this is it. You’re all set and will be on your way to success at Stanford,” his mother spoke. “Anything to say? It might be long before we all get together.”

James did, in fact, wanted to say something. Goodbye? I’ll be in touch? A heartfelt thank you? He debated whether to say or not say the thank you, but chose not to in the end.

“No, I’m telling you, I’ll be in touch,” was what he said instead.

It was when a week later, when his parents were out on a road trip, that they were fatally T-boned at an intersection, both too gravely injured to survive. A defunct autopilot software was the apparent cause of the accident.

A glossy drop of tear streaked down Logan’s chin as he woke up from his nap. So that was why he came back to 2023, at this exact specific location.

“Let’s turn on the autopilot so we can talk, shall we?” asked Jane.

“Sure.” Replied Logan.

“Alert: Approaching intersection, 400 ft away,” the A.I. reported.

Logan didn’t have much time to say it. To say what’s been nagging at the back of his mind since that fateful day. But all he managed was a weak, trailing “I…”

200 ft away.

He tried again, but only the same mumbling sound escaped his lips.

“Yes?” replied John, averting his eyes to the rear-view mirror to meet Logan’s gaze.

0 ft. WARNING: vehicle is running a red light.

“Thank y-”

The Tesla’s side panels were smashed by a pickup truck, sending it spinning into more oncoming traffic, resulting in two more consecutive crashes.

James Handler’s time was over, right then and there.


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19 Reviews


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Fri Nov 26, 2021 12:08 am
PoetryMisfit wrote a review...



Hi there!

I enjoyed your story, and I have a few suggestions that I think will make it even stronger (I apologize in advance for the nit-pickiness of my comments, but they are all meant to be constructive and help make your writing the best that it can be).

Your first paragraph read a little choppy because of the short sentences, which can add dramatic pauses, but combining a few of those sentences would really help them flow better.

"And thus began his 14-hour daily shift of working from 7 in the morning until 9 p.m." (I would recommend removing the "and" at the beginning of this sentence because it disrupts the reading flow).

"It was his 2,579th day of regular 14 hours a day work at Tesla, and the health complications were starting to show themselves." (wow, that's a lot of long shifts, and a great way to show a characterisitc of his personality by recalling the exact number of days he's worked so far. It's this subtle details that do the best job of clueing the reader into the charatcer's personality).

"Did he have enough of this nonsense? Probably yes." (I'd recommend adding a comma between probably and yes to create a pause that gives the thought a more snarky tone).

"Wanting to take a break from the loop, he sent a mail to the project manager to request the wellness day that was only given once a year and take a day off." (this sounds like a run-on sentence and a little choppy, mainly around around the last part "and take a day off". I'd recommend adding commas to break up the sentence or reword the last bit with a more concise description).

"The content was short but impactful." (the use of "impactful" seems to tell rather than show how the letter made James feel. It would really help the reader to connect more with James if you added more description about how exactly it made him feel).

"Dear friend, I’ll be straightforward: I’ve landed myself in a pile of legal troubles because I’ve somehow been set up by my own defense attorney. To be exact, he purposefully used the wrong personal pronoun. Now a shady loan shark company wants me to disappear, my neck is on the line, and I know that I cannot avoid it. When you don’t see me around anymore, go to the hidden location with the coordinates I included in this letter, and make good use of the car that you find there. I apologize and thank you at the same time. I have faith in you."
(I really like the way you wrote this letter, it really drew me in with enough detail to make me wonder about his friend's situation and what the outcome will be).

"Putting the car to park, James stepped out of his car and came across a large mahogany door." (this sentence is repetitive with two references to the car one right after the other. I would recommend removing one).

"Stepping inside, he came across a giant, complex machinery which spanned across much of the entire walls and ceilings in the form of thick, black wires and what appeared to be industrial power cabinets." (the word "entire" is superfluous because you're already using the term "much of" to describe the expanse of walls and ceilings).

"One of the instructions in his friend’s letter told him to adjust the dial to five years prior to his death, 2030." (you didn't include a description of this in the letter so it threw off a bit when I read it. I'd recommend adding a sentence about it in the letter to maintain consistency).

Okay, nit-picky comments aside I had some general observations to point out: try to avoid using filter words like "James decided" or "he felt", because it distracts from his perspective as a form of telling rather than showing what he decided or what he felt.
I really enjoyed the message behind your story about appreciating every moment with those you love because you don't know how many are left. And how often does someone get to time travel back to re-live a moment with someone and amend their regrets? It was very creative, and you did a good job of incorporating various subtle details that showed the reader characteristics of James' personality.
Keep writing, I look forward to reading more from you!

-Poetry Misfit




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Mon Nov 15, 2021 2:29 am
Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review! And belated welcome to YWS!!

Well, this certainly was an interesting story!! I'm not usually one for sci-fi, but I do love time travel. I loved the creativity that went into this story and the nearer futuristic elements you added, ones that might even come to fruition someday. It was a believable glimpse at the near future, and your plot was also compelling. Really great job!

I really loved the plotline in this. All of your story beats were timed out perfectly. I loved how you showed that little flashback and then revealed what happened to his parents right before he went through it with them. The ending was a bit depressing and shocking, and I absolutely love stories that pull something like that on the reader. It was so well executed in this case.

One thing I did notice was that you started referring to James as Logan when he lied about his name. I feel like that wouldn't be the best thing to do, or the most logical thing in terms of the storytelling. Since it's from James' perspective, he knows he's not Logan. It would make sense if it was from his parent's POV to refer to him as Logan, but I think it just creates this abrupt change that disrupts the flow of your story.

Specifics

Plenty of what can be only described as ‘insane things’ existed there: the ‘teleforce’ which could supposedly bring down a fleet of planes from a distance of 200 miles; the ‘omniscient glow’ which was a device that creates a concentrated beam of bright light to temporarily disorient whoever it is aimed at; and a baseball grenade which he didn’t bother reading the description for the fear of it exploding.


I wasn't sure how James would know what all that stuff was; it doesn't seem like it's realistic for it to be labeled, especially if it's someone's lab of some sort.

“I’ll tell you what, you sure do resemble someone.” Jane continued in a surprised tone.


Since "Jane continued" is a dialogue tag, I think you need to put a comma rather than a period after "someone." You've got some other dialogue punctuation discrepancies as well, so I'd go through and clean those up.

Wow. That ending was really great. I didn't see it coming, what with the whole red herring of the friend. I'm curious though: did Albert mean to have James try and save his parents, or was that just a way to get James to time travel to save his parents? Regardless, I think you did a really nice job crafting this twisty sci-fi short.

Overall: great work! I think you did a super nice job of crafting a very compelling sci-fi story with an interesting plot and a tragic twist. I hope to read more of your writing soon! Until next time!!




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Fri Nov 12, 2021 6:40 pm
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MaybeAndrew wrote a review...



Andrew here with a review! And also you seem new, so welcome to YWS! If you have any questions about the site, feel free to ask me!
But into the review. First off, looks like a time travel story, so that should be fun! My WIP is a time travel story, so I am slightly partial to them. This isn't just a time travel story though, it's a Back to the Future Time-style travel story. The closed-loop time travel story has always been interesting and can be extremely emotionally effective, and that's interestingly explored here, though I think it could potentially be improved, beyond that, I would also say that the story feels a bit rushed at times. This is acquainted by the inconsistency of the narateres voice, it switches tense and style, which generally makes a story hard to read, and I'll point those out as I go.
But into specifics!

Turning back to his work desktop, he resumed working on the autopilot software for the soon-to-be-released facelifted Model S. His boss sent an impending request for him to operate a major tweak in lines 400 to 1,000, which was one of the numerous sections that enabled safer A.I. driving at intersections and red lights. And thus began his 14-hour daily shift of working from 7 in the morning until 9 p.m. It was his 2,579th day of regular 14 hours a day work at Tesla, and the health complications were starting to show themselves. Did he have enough of this nonsense? Probably yes. Wanting to take a break from the loop, he sent a mail to the project manager to request the wellness day that was only given once a year and take a day off. Let that project code itself, because James wasn’t approaching his work desk anytime soon.

This is a bit clunky, there's a lot of important and interesting info here, and some good foreshadowing, so I would advise splitting this into multiple paragraphs and editing it.
he sent a mail to the project manager to request the wellness day that was only given once a year and take a day off.

Did you mean an email?
tepping inside, he came across a giant, complex machinery which spanned across much of the entire walls and ceilings in the form of thick, black wires and what appeared to be industrial power cabinets. Plenty of what can be only described as ‘insane things’ existed there: the ‘teleforce’ which could supposedly bring down a fleet of planes from a distance of 200 miles; the ‘omniscient glow’ which was a device that creates a concentrated beam of bright light to temporarily disorient whoever it is aimed at; and a baseball grenade which he didn’t bother reading the description for the fear of it exploding.

this is confusing, and James seems to be having surprisingly minimal sections to all this weird stuff, wouldn't he be a bit more confused?
Inside, the interior was rather cramped due to a nuclear reactor taking up space of the rear portion of the armrest and behind. Apparently, it powered the car.

Once again, James instantly recognizing what the nuclear reactor was and not being surprised by it seems strange, maybe give some more of an explanation there
Once in, James ignited the engine by turning the key, and for once, things worked like a normal car. Ahead of him lay a long stretch of an empty hallway for what looked like half a mile, which seemed impossible as the exterior of the warehouse factory was far smaller than that.

Wait, where had that hallway come from?
Should he do as he was told? After all, this car he was inside wasn’t even his to begin with. Or, would he do it? It was also entirely his choice. Would he help his ‘friend’ who ditched him at his own house? Reaching out to the dial knob, he turned the dial—to 2004, 2012, and 2030—and back to 2028, before he ever worked at Tesla Motors.

Once again, I'd expect him to be surprised by time travel
Slowly, the white nothingness faded to an environment, revealing an unfamiliar environment. Turning his head left and right, James found himself in the middle of a busy street with tall, sleek glass buildings: Upper East Side, Manhattan. His hometown!

This was confusing, maybe you should mention that the car disappeared and that he's now just standing on the sidewalk. Also wouldn't this be a familiar environment since he had lived here?
Still, something about that middle-aged woman was familiar, even though he had just met her. Deciding and then again deciding against himself, he struggled the urge to catch up to the woman again and get a better look at her face. Finally, he gave in and ran up to her with a tap on her shoulder.

Maybe it's been much longer than I realize, but I feel like I'd recognize my mom for the next thirty years, especially since we live in a world with pictures now. I might not recognize her before she knew me, but this is the same mom he had seen when he was a child.
“I must apologize for taking up too much of your time, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this magnificent experience with you today!” Said John while stretching his arms a little. “And you yourself don’t look that much older than my son. Might I ask who the fine parents of yours are?”

Logan couldn’t bear it anymore. To stop his eyes from welling with tears, he quickly and stoically replied, “Yes, my late parents.”

This whole exchange was confusing.
All of a sudden, the car refused to start. But Logan had a solution: the USB he pocketed back home.

good way to tie in the beginning of the story
Logan didn’t have much time to say it. To say what’s been nagging at the back of his mind since that fateful day. But all he managed was a weak, trailing “I…”

Logan?
The Tesla’s side panels were smashed by a pickup truck, sending it spinning into more oncoming traffic, resulting in two more consecutive crashes

Ah the good old closed loop. Sad, and powerful.
I think the emotional core of this story is the whole him causing his parents death and dying with him, so I might mention his parents were dead earlier on, and maybe even drop the friend in trouble subplot because is just distracts from the string at the center of this story, which is the sadness and twist of that closed loop. The twist could be strengthened, but it's already powerful.
James Handler’s time was over, right then and there.

This might be nitpicky, but if he died in the crash, wouldn't have the authorities been confused about the extra body who seemed to be the couples currently living son?
But that's all just my two cents! Hope it helps!
But like I said, the closed loop time travel element is real fun, and the story genuinely had a pleasing surprise at the end there.
Thanks, and keep writing,
Andrew




Liam024 says...


Thank you so much for the detailed feedback! I really appreciate the level of work you put into this review. I'm starting to notice a lot of new things, including the logical error (body count in the car crash) at the end.

Just for clarification, Logan was the name James made up on the spot when he met his parents to hide his identity.

One thing that you were spot on is the rushed style of the passage. Long ago, I had to submit this as an assignment and one of the requirements was that the total length had to be less than 7 pages. My guess is that I tried to compress many elements of the plot that would have worked out better had they been fully elaborated on.




Teach a man to fish, he eats for a day. Don't teach a man to fish, you eat for a day. He's a grown man. Fishing's not that hard.
— Ron Swanson (Parks and Rec)