The client, Abraham Jackson, stood behind the curtain and finished removing his clothes. He reached for the woollen breeches and pulled them on. They were loose and baggy and had no tie ... but there was a string, also, and it had been explained how to tighten the breeches around his waist. “Where am I going, exactly?” Abe asked.
“That’s hard to pinpoint,” answered the vendor, Garrett. “You can be pretty sure that it’ll be somewhere between the thirteenth and the fifteenth centuries. And probably somewhere in Europe. It took me months to get the fibrillation that fine. I’d hate to muck with it.
“Do people complain?”
“Some. But hey, it’s time travel. It has a certain appeal no matter what past you see. It’s a damn sight different from Gulfport.”
Abe lifted the woollen robe off its hanger and pulled it on. “I gotta agree with that.”
“I have to ask if you have any second thoughts. Nothing meant by it, I just have to ask everyone.”
Pulling the curtain aside, Abe looked Garrett in the eye. “Are you kidding?”
“Sorry. Just a precaution.”
“Well forget it. I made up my mind after looking over your equipment. There isn’t enough amperage to hurt me, and if nothing happens, I’m not going to be surprised. And that check I gave you won’t clear.”
“No, no, I understand,” said Garrett. “We both understand, don’t we Jerry?”
Jerry was sitting quietly, his EMT tool box beside him, looking ready. Every time Garrett had a new client, Jerry did him the favor of being available. That didn’t include selling the clients however, and Jerry only grunted.
Abe pointed at Jerry; “And he’s here in case I hurt myself.”
“Yes. Please understand ... about half my clients come back hurt in some way. Time doesn’t pass here while you’re in the past. So you can stay there as long as you like. Most people give it a week or so, and find they can’t get comfortable in the rustic surroundings, or they get a little freaked out with the culture. Those that try to stay longer quit the moment they get really sick, or they break an arm or something. That’s why Jerry is here. He’ll take care of you when you come back.”
Abe nodded. “I see.”
“Don’t worry ... there’s probably no more chance of getting injured in fourteenth century France that roaming around downtown Houston – everyone’s bound to need medical attention every few months, even if it’s just for a cold. There’s no sense in you sitting around here waiting for me to call an ambulance ... especially since the trip just takes a couple of seconds from our end.”
“I’m sorry?” asked Abe. “You want to explain that again.”
“Surely. I told you ... time doesn’t pass here. You step in and the machine cycles you out and into the other time line. Then, when you want to come back, the machine cycles again and brings you back. From our perspective, you’re in, you’re out. The only thing that takes time is the machine cycling twice.”
“Do some people stay a long time?”
“We had one fellow come back at ninety-five years of age. How he survived that long, I can’t guess. He said he arrived just in time to learn Polish before getting a chance to sit down and talk to Copernicus. Then he spent years just building himself up to being an important doctor in a town called Konigsberg. Take my advice – if you try to stay, be a doctor. It’s an easy life, and if you stick to basic first aid you’ll build up a good reputation and when a patient goes sour on you most of the villagers will keep you from being lynched.”
“You sound like you’ve been.”
Garrett squared his shoulders and beamed. “Four months in Cadiz, Spain. I was too early to see Columbus or the Spanish Armada, but the sights were worth the trip. I had to come back, though – I was afraid I’d caught syphilis. Turned out to be a false alarm, eh Jerry?”
“Shit, I hadn’t thought of disease,” said Abe.
“Don’t worry about it. You’ve got shots for most of the serious ones ... you could turn up during the Black Plague and you’d be fine. Be a pretty nasty vacation, though. I’d run for the hills just to stop yourself from having nightmares. If you’ve got a strong stomach, though, you could make a killing as a doctor ... end up living like a king.”
“And come back an old man.”
“Sorry, nothing I can do about that. Time keeps passing for you. You’ll get older. Those are the breaks. You’ll see a world you’ve never seen ... and come back to find your kids are still alive. Don’t wait too long and the people at the office won’t be shocked to find your hair’s gone grey over the weekend. ‘Course, you could come back and find you can’t go back to your old job.”
Abe laughed. “Maybe I should write a history, huh?”
“If you like. Nobody has yet.”
“Have you ever had anyone not come back?”
“I hate to talk about that.”
“Go on, don’t worry,” said Abe. “I’m committed.”
“Well, one fellow went through and the machine didn’t cycle again. He had that same chip in his arm that you had ... and I’ve tried the GPS to locate it, but apparently the transmitter in it was destroyed over the centuries. It must have been something that killed him instantly, so he didn’t have time to activate it.”
“Heck. The law of averages dictates ...”
“No, don’t say anything else. It’s not important. Just so long as I have enough warning to squeeze my wrist very hard –”
“The chip will be activated. That’s right.”
“Okay then. What do I do?”
Garrett put out his hand. “Shake my hand. You’re starting an amazing adventure.”
Abe grinned and they shook.
“Just move inside the box. Go ahead and lean on the sides, it won’t make any difference. The machine cycles everything inside, despatializing it and plopping it into the other time frame.” Garrett waved his hand. “Sorry, that’s not very scientific. It all particle physics and it isn’t easy to explain. Take my word for it ... you and the air with you are going together at the same time.”
“Cool,” said Abe.
“I’m just going to close the box and the machine will start to cycle. You’ll hear an escape of air, and a quiet whirring, and then there’s going to be a hell of a flash. Don’t worry about closing your eyes ... the flash is your brain cells interpreting the new data. It isn’t coming through your vision. Ready?”
Abe climbed two stairs and went though the box’s entrance. “Hit me.”
“It’ll be quite gentle. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
Inspired, Abe answered, “I’ll see you in a few months.”
Garrett grinned, and gave a sharp, approving nod of his head. He moved to a console and activated the machine. The door closed, and for twenty seconds it cycled.
It didn’t cycle again.
Letting out a big breath of air, Garrett shrugged and looked at Jerry. “Why do they always think they’re going to come back?”
“I don’t know,” said Jerry. “Let’s get a beer.”