The Past Tastes Better
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, my job is nothing. Forty or fifty years, or in rare cases, seventy, but never much more. A quick nip in time, back to some church dinner or Bar Mitzvah to pick up gramma’s secret recipe—whatever it happened to be—and back to collect the check. Big checks, and bigger tips. Tipping assuages the guilt of asking someone to risk being atomized—and plenty of time to study.
MIT doesn’t let just anyone play with their toys, after all.
Not that they know.
If anybody asks, I’m a waiter.
I’d been a waiter for over a year before I got the other kind of request.
The woman looked at me for a long time before she said anything. Something not quite right about her clothes, as if she were trying to hid who she was, and where she came from. Her baggy t-shirt advertised a decade-old Golden Gophers victory, and her khakhi pants had a bargain-basement droop.
“I would like to buy two tacos,” she said. She enunciated each word, practiced, and vaguely reminiscent of the old Mid-Atlantic accent. I still didn’t know where she was from, but not Minnesota.
“Go away.” I turned another page in my nondescript magazine and smiled at a comic strip that wasn’t funny. “Can’t you see we’re closed?”
She stood firm. “Please? They’re for my pet parakeet. He’s dying.”
That was the code. I leaned over the counter to see if anyone was watching. “Oh. All right. Come around back.”
I waited until I heard a knock, and jerked the door open. “You know what I do?”
She nodded. “And?”
“I need you to go to twenty-seven forty-two.”
For just a second, I thought the numbers were coordinates. Then, I choked. “That’s in the future,” I said. “It’s–”
“Nearly six hundred years from now.” She watched my face, my arms, maybe even my legs. “You do … do that, don’t you?”
“Time travel.” I nodded.
“Every couple of weeks.” I really thought that was what she meant, and I really thought that was the stupidest thing I’d ever said in my life.
“How much money?” She asked.
“I can’t do it. The future–”
“The distant future,” she corrected me.
“It’s tricky. I can’t know where I’ll be in the future.”
“You’ll be dead.”
“Six hundred years from now, you’ll be dead. It’s not like you’re going to run into your future self and ignite the atmosphere,” she said. “Just stay out of cemeteries, and you’ll be fine.”
I considered, as I always did, when that kind of an offer came up. A quick peek at the future news could pay off. “It’s complicated.”
“You believe it, don’t you?”
I sighed. Explaining the science to her wasn’t worth it, and she wouldn’t agree with me, regardless. Until you’ve seen it, you’ll never understand how vast and timeless a single grain of sand can be. “There isn’t enough money in the world to make me go to the future,” I said. “Too many variables.”
“The Grandfather Paradox?”
No, she didn’t understand what she was saying, but there it was. My out. I made my next nod an apology. “So, you understand,” I said.
She smiled back at me. “Of course, I do.” She shifted her weight, and got up. I was relieved. She wasn’t going to be a problem. “I’m sorry I wasted your time,” she said.
I shrugged it off. I didn’t need the job. I didn’t need any job. That made it easier to say no. “If you think of anything else you need,” I said. “If it’s within our parameters…”
“Oh, I’ll call you.” A wistful sigh, and I still felt guilty for saying no. She was out the door, and headed back to wherever she came from before I could say anything else.
I followed her into the rain, just to make sure she got back to her car alright. Nobody ever looks for a borrowed quantum distortion generator in a rough neighborhood, but I was uneasy about letting her walk alone. “Hey. Let me walk you to your car.”
She walked a little faster. “I don’t have a car.”
“You live near here? I’ll walk you home. It’s dark.”
She didn’t respond, and she didn’t look at me again. She got to the dead end of the road, and just stood there, with the wind and rain soaking her through.
“You mean, you’re homeless?” People did camp in that park. I hadn’t guessed. I hadn’t even offered her a sandwich. “What could you possibly want in twenty-seven forty-two? I mean–”
“Nothing.” She paced without looking at me. “I don’t want anything. I got what I came for.”
I debated how her mind was. Not good, if she was standing in that neighborhood, in the rain at night. But she got the pass code somewhere, and I tried again. “I’ll call some one. Want a sandwich? I’ll try not to burn the peanut butter.”
“It’s recursive,” she said.
Maybe she wasn’t talking to me. “I don’t understand,” I said. “Lets go somewhere warm.”
“It’s not a paradox. It’s recursive.” She was talking to me, and she wasn’t, and maybe she didn’t remember I was even there. She chewed her lower lip, and thought hard. “The whole thing. Time travel. The whole species. Maybe even the whole planet. It’s recursive.”
I gave her a stern smile. “You never told me what you wanted,” I said.
“It’s okay, Grandpa. I got what I came for.” She took something out of her pocket, and looked at it for just a second. “You get there, eventually.”
“I get where?”
She pressed a button, and disappeared into the blue crackle of distorted time.
Be sure you visit the other blogs on the hop for more short fiction.
You are Here—>The Past Tastes Better by Karen Lynn