I watched the kid rummage around in the old scraps, chuckling a little as he
cursed at his skinned knuckles. I jerked my foot off the floor (not as easy as
it used to be) as a battery core rolled through the space where my toes had
"How do you find anything in here, Pops?" he said.
"I knew where it all was, more or less."
"Well, you been movin' it around for 3 days, so there's no telling how long
it'll take me to learn the new lay of the land, now." The kid was too easy, and
I stifled a smile at the guilty look that came over him at the implied
difficulty for poor old Pops. "What are you looking for, anyway, Cal?"
"I need a superconducting cooling coil for this needle gun I'm repairing.
Barrel's overheating. That's why it keeps warping."
"Shit, kid, you're in the whole wrong pile. I got one over here." I creaked to
my feet and led Cal over to the shelf and boxes labeled 'KITCHEN'. "Microfridge
uses the exact same coil," I said.
We set to with a will, and before long I hear his eureka. "Solar! Found one!" I straightened my aching back, so I was looking at the ceiling when I heard the shroud fall.
That didn't matter none, I knew what he'd done. It was going to be a long
"Pops, what is this thing?"
"Time machine," I said.
"What? Are you kidding me? Are you freaking
kidding me? Why is it in a junk pile? Why aren't you rich?"
"Because it's useless."
"Useless? It can't be. Um. Why is there a goldfish in it?"
That was interesting. I looked at my watch: 2:13.
"I reckon you're going to nag me until I demonstrate," I said. "Come on,
Peter." The fish bowl was ever so slightly warm to the touch, but not enough to
bother the fish. I put Peter the fish next to himself on the counter.
"You're going to demonstrate it? Yes!"
"Well, it seems that way, don't it?" I checked the watch again. 2:17. Damn, I
must be getting older than I thought, if it took me that long to tote a fish
bowl around. Peter the Younger and his chrononaut twin were staring at each
other. I picked up my fish bowl and hauled it back to the time machine.
"Say bye to Pete, kiddo. We'll see him about five minutes ago." I set the
destination to 2:13pm, August 3rd 2204, and waited a few seconds as the
computer calculated the transporter's position in space five minutes ago. There
wasn't any fanfare as the fish disappeared and the lights and fans shut
themselves off in the machine.
"That's amazing, Pops! I mean, I knew you were a brilliant fix-it guy, but I
had no idea. Did you make this? Really?"
"Yep, made it last year."
"You've got to tell somebody." The kid was pacing now, fists clenched in an
ecstasy of possibilities. "They could kill Hitler. Or turn those planes around.
They could call away the Secret Service just before the Jones assassination."
"Won't work. We remember Hitler, right?"
"So that means he didn't die. Trouble with time travel is, whatever horrible
thing we want to change wouldn't even be a memory to us, if we'd managed to
change it. And no, we can't go forward and corner the stock market or bet on
the World Series."
"Why not? Because it's cheating?"
"No, because doing something like that doesn't happen in a vacuum. We place a
bet on the new boxing champ, but his friend finds out we've put a big bet on
him. It's the pressure that broke the camel's back, and our guy folds. He's not
the new champ anymore, and we lost our money." It wasn't funny, anymore,
watching his frustration. I'd gone through the same thing.
"But it might not!"
"Sure, I'm just sayin' it's not a sure thing. It's not like you'd expect. It's
an edge, not a crib sheet." I cracked my neck, groaned. "But now it's time for
these old bones to rest, and for you to go home. Gotta take my damn pills."
"Okay, Pops, but we have to figure out how to use this thing."
"Nah. It's useless."
Cal locked up the store and wandered out the back, muttering about stock
markets and lotteries.
I swallowed my pills. They weren't working that well anymore, but then again I
was already old when antiaging pills hit the market. At this rate I doubted I'd
see 150. That was alright, though. I'd have a nice little nest egg to leave the
boy and his mother. I pulled out a half assembled component, a microsolderer,
and a 3D schematic dated '2243 CE.'
Sometimes an edge is all you need.