“Harry, you’ve got my list, right?”
I remembered poor Spencer as I fixed a jammed ball return. His eczema was terrible. I knew he’d be glad to see me. Truth be told, it would be good to get back home. I’ve had a list of things to bring back for people.
“Yes, Spencer. I’ll be sure to get your skin creme. I know, don’t get it from Earth #5 because nothing from there works. I won’t forget your hair dye, Agnes. Earth #11. Got it.” Agnes touched her hair self-consciously and I think perhaps I shared too much. I just wanted to reassure everyone when I came back I would have everything they needed. That was almost half a year ago.
It had been exactly three months since Shop-Well disappeared from this very spot. I had just managed to pick up most of what everyone needed before arriving here from home. Upon arrival, I was appropriately mobbed, and then I went to my home away from home. The Park and Bowl on Ceder Street.
I loved this place. It was the first Earth I landed in all those years ago after the Fractures began. My first memory was of dirigibles littering the sky. That’s how I knew I wasn’t home anymore. This Earth was low on fossil fuels. Everyone rode bikes and air travel was leisurely. People here knew how to relax.
My first years of Cross-time were hard. Never being able to stay in one place for too long. Having to learn how to travel, when to travel and the necessity of travel. The learning curve was steep.
After clearing the ball return on lane eight, I retired to my room in the back and checked to be sure my bags were packed and my room cleared out. #3 wouldn’t be back in alignment for another year, so they might as well rent the room out.
I looked at my calendar, my Cross-time codex and with my slide-rule, I estimated I had a 89% chance of returning home this time. A probability worth taking the risk.
My name is Harry Zimmer and I’m a Cross-Time Resource Acquisitions Agent. I shop across parallel space-time junctures.
Don’t ask me about the science, because it took me five years to learn how to use this stupid slide rule and d-codex to estimate whether I was going to be able to reach an Earth I wanted to go to. I barely understood how the Fractures worked. I didn’t know how or why buildings started flickering between worlds or why people caught in those buildings were now the only people able to cross between worlds.
Nope. I didn’t understand it at all. It took five years for scientists to make a reason I could understand and it was only with the experience of what happened, when explained in great detail to men in white lab coats that we began to understand Cross-time. I learned different Earths accepted this technology at different rates.
Armed with a slide rule and a d-codex, I could move with a randomly appearing building to another Earth. Eventually, I would return to an Earth I’d visited in the past. And that was where I made my money. I shopped between worlds, bringing people what I could carry on my back, specialized things they needed. In the beginning it was glamorous. Scientists wanted to know me, and have me bringing science from different Earths. After a time, things leveled out and there was less uniqueness between worlds. The glamour faded and I became a man of the people.
I began moving more mundane cargo, but still as important to the people who needed it. It was the limitations that caused the problem. I could only move things which could physically be lifted past the threshold. Damage the threshold of a flickering building and it vanished. Forever.
Thus our trips between worlds became part scavenger hunt and part arms race. All of the Earths in our network of worlds shared locations randomly. Stores, buildings, restaurants randomly changed their location across the network. But not everyone could use them. If you were in a building when it changed locations, you could always go back to the location and sense when your building would come through. It might take you back to your world or it may take you to another.
I’ve been a Cross-Time shopper for almost fifteen years now. I was promised eventually I would be able to stop as particles which allowed me to move across dimensions were depleted. It hadn’t happened yet. I knew better than to try to force myself to stay in one location, anymore. The memory of a man who refused to Travel still haunts my nightmares.
It wasn’t so bad. I Traveled, saw the worlds, bought hair care products, video games from previous eras, sometimes the past, sometimes the future, and delivered them to people who might never know the joys of Earths unmet.
Shop-well was on time and I wished my employer and friend, Phyllis, goodbye. She always walked with me when I left. She never asked me to bring her anything. Just to come back safe. She’s a good woman.
Like clockwork, everyone was there.
“Here you go, Spencer. I got you the economy-size.”
“Bless you, Harry. Agnes couldn’t make it, but I’ll take her package. She’s a little under the weather. She said to invite you to dinner at eight. Don’t say no.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it Spencer. I’ve been dreaming of her meatloaf since I left.”
I suspected Agnes didn’t want to be seen so when she dyed her hair, people wouldn’t remember how grey it’d been getting. A woman’s vanity was her own.
I finished delivering the packages to everyone here on Earth #2, except the military officers who stood off to the side waiting until everyone left.
My data wand was still in my hand as the general approached. “Harold Zimmer, do you have what we sent you for?”
“Of course, General. It’s right here. And I will be charging you extra for having to lug this thing from three Earths away. What would you want this for anyway?”
“We saw it in a video game you brought home a few years ago. The applications in the game were spectacular and we were surprised it had never been invented here. It will revolutionize warfare as we know it.”
“Really? It just looks like a bunch of sheets and strings. I can’t imagine what you’d do with it.”
“You use it when you jump out of planes.”
“Jump from a plane? Why would I do that?”
“Zimmer, you lack imagination. You use it when you want to send resources behind enemy lines and you want to drop them from the air.”
“General, you could send me for anything I can carry and this is what you do with the ability to cross time and space? A way to deliver packages?”
“No, Zimmer. A way to deliver men to the battlefield.”
“General, hasn’t anyone told you war as you knew it was obsolete?” His scowl spoke volumes.
I began, “The war you want to wage now is a trade war. Is there anything useful I can pick up for you on my next trip? Your right mind, perhaps? Don’t forget to pay me for that air-dropping-blanket.”
“Parachute, Zimmer. It’s called a parachute.”
“Foolishness, General. I call it foolishness. Who jumps out of a working airplane, willingly? Nobody. There’s a reason we didn’t invent those here…grown men talking about jumping out of airplanes.”
I indulged them because they paid well. No need for him to know we weren’t permitted to bring anything that worked like a weapon between worlds. Some kind of entropy prevented weapons from making the jump.
But you couldn’t stop ideas. One day, I’d have to figure out what made this travel possible. The underlying rules made me think a form of manipulation was at work.
Today, I was too tired to care. I didn’t even plan to talk to my bosses until tomorrow.
Checking my slide-rule and d-codex, I determined there was at least a three month layover here at home. I was looking forward to old friends, pleasant conversation, an illegal fine brandy from Earth #17 and a tasty meatloaf.
The Last of the Cross-Time Spenders © Thaddeus Howze 2014, All Rights Reserved
Thaddeus Howze is a popular and recently awarded Top Writer, 2016 recipient on the Q&A site Quora.com. He is also a moderator and contributor to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange with over fourteen hundred articles in a four year period.
Thaddeus Howze is a California-based technologist and author who has worked with computer technology since the 1980’s doing graphic design, computer science, programming, network administration, teaching computer science and IT leadership.
His non-fiction work has appeared in numerous magazines: Huffington Post, Gizmodo, Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project, Examiner.com, The Enemy, Panel & Frame, Science X, Loud Journal, ComicsBeat.com, and Astronaut.com. He maintains a diverse collection of non-fiction at his blog, A Matter of Scale.
His speculative fiction has appeared online at Medium, Scifiideas.com, and theAu Courant Press Journal. He has appeared in twelve different anthologies in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. A list of his published work appears on his website, Hub City Blues.