The Fourth is With Us!

So this year I decided to do something a little different than the usual sale to celebrate Star Wars day, since there’s actually something to celebrate this year! Rather than offer you discounts on the old stuff, I’m emulating Abrams and giving you all something new: a Shadows of Time short written just for the occasion!

As for where it fits in continuity, it’s after book 2 but before book 4, and that’s all I can say for certain.

So enjoy, fellow nerds, and May the 4th be with you all year!

Time Travelers Need Shoes Too

By Joseph J. Reinemann

 “You know…”  ISAC wished he could cringe as he watched the travesty unfolding in front of him, “I think it might be time to call a time of death.”

“Don’t you DARE give up on me now.” John reached for a hemostat and clamped down on the latest rupture.  “We are going to make this work, and we’re going to do it now!”

“You’ve been trying for hours John.  At this point I think it’s technically gone into the realm of torture.  Call it.”

“Never!”  John grabbed an already threaded needle and began to put in rough, untidy sutures.

What they lacked in technical quality, the stitches more than made up for in sheer quantity.  Every single one made ISAC cry internally, but the small computer repressed the urge to use more forceful language and forced himself to watch.  Finally, John finished his work and removed the hemostat.

“There!” John wiped some sweat off of his forehead and held the patient up for inspection.

“You sewed one of the laces to the side,” ISAC observed as he took in the battered hunk of leather and rubber that ISAC wasn’t sure still technically counted as a shoe.

John turned the shoe around and confirmed that ISAC was correct.  “Damn it!” he exclaimed, gently pulling at the lace to see how thoroughly it had been caught up in his repair.  The answer was “very.”

ISAC watched with mild bemusement as John, wearing a very defeated look on his face, tugged on the lace anyway and managed to tear out three of the stitches he’d just applied with such vigor.  John Roley hadn’t really made it into any history books yet, but being time travelers that hadn’t stopped him or ISAC from reading those books anyway.  There were a lot of labels that ended up being attached to one of the three Guardians of time throughout the many different lives he’d lived.  Tyrant, hero, liberator, enslaver, demon, savior, he had the potential to be them all.  But ISAC was actually starting to get a little surprised that there hadn’t even been a footnote about him being such an unbelievably shitty cobbler.

“Okay,” John admitted as he reached for a roll of duct tape.  “Maybe the shoes are done for.”

“They had a good run,” ISAC consoled him, complementing the shift in his synthesized tone with a picture of a man patting another, sadder man on the back displayed on the screen just beneath the cameras that provided him with sight.  “Several, actually.  Through a great variety of terrains.”

“That had crossed my mind.”

“Really, it’s a miracle they didn’t fall apart ages ago,” ISAC went on.

“Yes,” John repeated, “I know.  I’ve been hard on them.”  He sighed and did his best to patch the jagged new hole in the side of his shoe up with the duct tape.

“Let’s be fair.  You’ve put them through the shoe equivalent of hell and they’ve finally been granted an escape.”

“Okay, that’s enough now.”  John put the duct tape away and did his best to gently work the sad little shoe back onto his foot without destroying it.  “I guess I’ll just have to be a bit more careful with them.”

“How’s that going to work?”  ISAC inquired.  “You seem to have a knack for getting people pissed at you.  And their armies.”

“Fair point.”  John delicately put the shoe in place and began cinching up the laces.  “God damn it, I’m sick and tired of having to work around all the stuff we didn’t have onboard when we launched.”

“Oh?”  ISAC checked his files quickly.  “Funny, I don’t see any mention of you planning to bring along extra shoes.”

“How was I even supposed to know I’d need them?”  John shot back.  “Or polar survival gear, for that matter?”

“That one was unexpected,” ISAC admitted.

“So is everything else we run into.  The whole point of building a ship as big as the Wells was so that we’d be able to fill it with everything we’d possibly need to survive.  We shouldn’t be constantly running into surprises like this!”

ISAC heard a few more stitches pop as John tightened up the laces.  “You know that’s probably going to fail on you before you even get back to the cockpit?”

“I’ve got to get some better shoes,” John declared.  “Something that’ll actually last me.”

ISAC sighed.  “So, we survive all this only to be sent back home for footwear.”

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”  John briefly tested out his repairs and found them to be as unsatisfying as everyone had expected them to be.  “I’ve still got a couple hundred dollars in my wallet and it’ll be another few hours before the tanks are topped up and we’re ready to leave the 24th century.  I’ll just go out and buy some.”

It wasn’t easy to stare at something when your eyes were a pair of high definition unblinking movable security cameras mounted in a wall.  But ISAC found a way.  “You want to buy a pair of shoes.  In the 24th century.”

“Why not?  I have to imagine that there have been at least a few breakthroughs in podiatry after four hundred years.”

“We’ve never tried actually buying things in the future John,” ISAC pointed out.  “They just give us stuff so that we leave.”

“Oh come on ISAC, it’s cash. Legal tender.” John insisted.  “It’s not like it’s got an expiration date on it!”

 

*****

“What is this stuff?”  The woman behind the counter at the shoe store held the $100 bill between her thumb and forefinger, eyeing the portrait of Ben Franklin as if she were trying to warn him against trying anything fresh. She couldn’t have been any more than fourteen by John’s estimation. But then again, just about everyone in the 24th century seemed to stop aging once they hit twenty, so he could very easily be wrong about that.  A nametag that was mostly taken up by a regular pattern of white and black squares identified her as “Lydia.”

“It’s… cash.”  John licked his suddenly dry lips.  “You know… currency?”

“What am I supposed to do with it?” Lydia asked.

The unmistakable sound of electronic snickering began to emanate from John’s pocket.

“Use it to pay for the shoes?”  John tried.

Lydia set the bill down with the remainder of John’s unexpectedly meager cash reserves on the counter between them.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “I don’t think we can take this.”

“Sure you can!” John insisted. “I mean, the United States is still around, right?”

“All sixty of them,” she confirmed while giving him the same look she’d probably give anyone who had to ask for confirmation of what country they were in.

“So,” John pointed at the bill, “this note has their backing.  It’s a guarantee that it can be exchanged for goods and services.”

Lydia stared back at him a good long while before reaching under her desk.  “I’m going to call my manager for you,” she said.

John barely had time to nod before a screen he hadn’t even been able to see was there suddenly turned on beneath his hands.

“Yes Lydia?” the woman asked, looking up from the desk.

“Mrs. Keller, there’s a customer here who’s trying to us some kind of government coupon to pay for a purchase, I need to know if we can accept it.”

“It’s not a coupon,” John mumbled.

Mrs. Keller leaned forward on her end, creating an unnerving illusion that her head was growing in size to fill the counter.  “Could you hold it up so I can scan it?” she asked.

Lydia complied.  Mrs. Keller began shaking her head almost immediately.

“No,” she told her.  “There’s no way we can take that.”

“Oh come on!” John leaned further into the counter and where he hoped there was a camera.  “I know it’s old, but it’s still legal!”

“That’s paper currency. Sir.” Mrs. Keller had a flat finality in her punctuation that suggested she probably spent a lot of time staring down contrary children.  “All paper currency was retired by the banking revision act of 2255.  The grace period for using it at merchants ended more than fifty years ago.  If you want to have it converted now you’re going to need to contact the treasury department so they can append it to your asset vault.”

“How long is that going to take?” John demanded, ignoring the fact that at least half of the terms she’d used were alien to him.  Learning not to ask people what things were was a skill you learned in time travel to avoid awkward stares.  And he was already getting more than enough of those from Lydia and the people at the other registers.

“You’d have to contact the treasury about that sir.”  Mrs. Keller’s smile was looking more and more strained with every word.  “If you’d like to provide a bio-print or a proxichip transfer instead I’m sure we can help you.”

The snickering turned into unrestrained laughter that prompted Lydia to crane her neck to one side to try to see just what it was in John’s pants that found the situation so funny.

“How about a check?” John asked.  “Do you take checks?”

The manager couldn’t quite hide the sigh.  “We usually don’t… but if you can provide a valid form of ID, then I think we could make an exception.”

The strain showing at the edges of her practiced smile made the implication that she was only trying to get him out of here abundantly clear.

“Ooh,” ISAC commented.  “I’ve been waiting for you to try to make this work!”

Before they’d left their own time, John had taken the precaution of setting up about a dozen different long-term savings accounts in his name.  The plan had been to let the money collect large amounts of interest and, hopefully, provide himself with a nearly unlimited source of funds if he ever got stuck in the future.  In theory it was a great plan.  In practice, it had never once been tested.

“All right.”  John reached into his pocket and pulled out a stack of checkbooks.  Lydia looked at them as if they were some kind of rare animal.  He grabbed one on the top, flipped the cover open, and showed her the logo on the front.  “Is this outfit still around?”

Lydia gave him a vacant expression.

“I think that’s a no,” ISAC remarked.

“Okay.”  John went to the next one in the pile.  “How about them?”

Lydia squinted at the logo.  “I think that sounds familiar.”

“Great.”  John tore out a check, scribbled out the information, and handed it over.

“One moment.”  Lydia fed the check into her register.  After a long time, it made a ping noise and spit it back out.

“Okay,” Mrs. Keller squinted at something off screen.  “I’m… not exactly sure what kind of check this is, but according to our system it does still connect to an active account.”

“Ha!”  John rapped his knuckles against the pocket where ISAC was.  “And you said the idea was stupid.”

“Yeah, yeah,” ISAC groused.

“If you can just give me your ID, I can approve this for you,” Mrs. Keller said.

“Right.”  John fished his driver’s license out and held it up where Lydia had held the money before.

“I need your ID, sir,” Mrs. Keller repeated.

“This is ID!  It’s a state issued driver’s license!”  John protested.

“You know how to drive?” Lydia asked in awe.

“Well… technically,” ISAC told her.

“Even if that’s true,” Mrs. Keller told him, “According to the date on it, it expired over three hundred years ago.”

“…Oh.”  John retracted the license.  “Right.”

Wheels began spinning in his head.  This was fixable, he was sure of it.  His license was good for eight years at a time.  It only took about an hour to get it renewed, so if he did a series of time jumps he could build up a collection of valid driver’s licenses all the way into the 24th century.

I’d need to renew it…  he did some quick figures in his head.  …Forty-three times.  Factoring in travel time to and from the Wells and a couple of hours to sleep every few days, I could probably have it done in a week or so.  

A week where I do nothing but wait in lines at the DMV…

He said something uncouth at that point.

“Okay,” ISAC said.  “This has been thoroughly humiliating for you which means really fun for me, but could you put me on the counter now and let the adult handle it?”

John sighed and pulled the small computer out of his pocket, setting him down next to the cash and the apparently useless check.  Once he was down ISAC raised his screen with a tiny whir of electric motors.

“Hi,” ISAC said. “So while he’s been hilariously failing at basic commerce, I’ve been poking around the internet.  And in addition to being very disappointed that you still haven’t managed to finish retiring IPv4, I did a little checking around on various online auction sites.  And that little piece of paper in your hand is potentially worth a LOT more than the cost of those shoes.”

Mrs. Keller seemed unimpressed, but Lydia started studying the check more closely.  Her eyes went wide as she read the name in the corner of the check.

“I don’t know what you’re getting at,” Mrs. Keller’s expression hardened, “but our policy does not allow any kind of barter in exchange for merchandise—”

“Mrs. Keller!” Lydia waved the check in front of the pickup and pointed to the name.

“Oh.”  Mrs. Keller’s eyes widened as well.  “Oh… my.”

“According to the information I found,” ISAC continued, “a verifiable signature for John Roley with a modern date attached would probably net you in the area of eight million dollars.  Maybe a bit more if you include the blooper reel of him trying to figure out how to pay for footwear as a bonus.  That’s gotta be worth, say, two pairs of your best shoes and another two pair of hiking boots thrown in?”

Lydia suddenly looked suspicious.  “How do we know this isn’t some kind of trick you two are running?”  She asked.

“Good point, Lydia,” ISAC dipped his screen in acknowledgement.  “Well, he can’t prove his identity, but I actually took some more precautions in making sure I could prove mine!”

 

*****

 

“I swear, it’s true,” Tim said.

“I think you found the 24th century version of ‘The Onion,’” Laura Jones replied, looking not at all convinced by anything coming out of Tim’s mouth right now.

“I asked four different people, and they all said—wait, John!” Tim flagged John down as he started walking up the entry ramp to the Wells.  “You were out and about today.  You heard about that insane thing that happened to the stock market, right?”

“Uh…” John’s face visibly paled.  “…huh.  Yeah, I heard about it.”

“You heard that the share price of every stock on the market suddenly hit $1,347.09 and then dropped back to where it was before.”  Laura arched an eyebrow in his direction.

John shifted the bags clutched under both arms.  “It won’t happen again,” he said.

Laura and Tim both gave him odd looks.  “That’s… an unusual thing to say.”  Tim adjusted his gaze towards the bags.  “And that’s… a lot of pairs of shoes.”

“There was a sale,” John told him.

“Right.”  Tim and Laura kept staring at John.

“You know,” Laura remarked, “it just occurred to me that if you squinted the right way, 1347 would kind of look like it was spelling out ‘ISAC.’”

“Weird.” John licked his lips.

“Extremely,” ISAC chimed in.  “And… I’m sure whoever did it learned a very important lesson about why you shouldn’t build elaborate backdoors into the world’s financial systems just to prove a point.”

“I think we can all agree on that,” John nodded.

 

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