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The office was vast, not at all what Mark had expected. As he looked around he marveled at just how large the space was. It didn’t have large ceilings, but it seemed to go on forever, the idea of a room with infinity of length and breadth made him a little uneasy. It was a lot larger than the dingy door with the dirty crooked sign led one to believe. He quickly surveyed the many file cabinets and small cubicles that disappeared into a bustling vanishing point. Every inch of space seemed packed with cabinets, desks and scurrying people. Light poured in from the pebbled metal-wire safety glass, but it was yellowed due to the years when smoking had once been allowed in the building. Now that it was a politically correct smoke free environment, the only traces that remained were the nicotine stains on those windows. Mark also hazarded a guess that the walls were originally painted white and not the sickly sallow cream color they currently were. He pondered for a moment how the inside of the space could be larger than the outside dimensions of the building, but quickly shelved this thought as he picked up on the conversation that the receptionist was having on the phone.
“No sir, what you want is an inspiration. We don’t do that here.” Her voice had an edge that gave away her irritation at being asked such an absurd question.
“What you need is a muse. No, sir I don’t have their number. No, sir I don’t know how you would get in touch with them. Perhaps you might try the yellow pages under Muse. Her sarcasm thickened here as she tried to indicate that she wanted to end the conversation.”
“Well, that is the best I can do. We don’t deal with inspirations here. You have a good day too.” She said hanging up the phone and looking in his direction.
“May I help you?” She said, looking over her horn rimmed glasses in a tone that was neither helpful nor welcome.
Mark stepped forward and was about to speak when the phone rang again. The receptionist held up an index finger that ended in a long black nail to let him know to hold on as she answered the phone.
“Abstract Ideas, how can I help you?” She answered in the same snotty tone that she had just taken with him. While she was on the phone Mark took this time to notice that she was wearing an excessive amount of makeup. It made her skin look waxy and slightly transparent as if one could see the layers beneath move against one another. Her hair was a dark brown that she had tied back in a bun so tight it gave her the appearance of a permanent facelift. She wore a charcoal business suit, one that would suggest that she made quite a bit more than your typical receptionist. Her glasses weren’t remarkable with the exception of the eyes behind them. When he had walked in he was sure that they were a light blue. Now, standing here under the fluorescents he could see that they weren’t blue all, but silver. Not a shiny silver of new jewelry or freshly minted coins, but the kind of cold silver you would see when someone would put dimes on the eyes of a dead man. She looked right at him just then and jolt caused his heart to flutter and brought him back from his wool gathering.
“What type of vision was it? Uh huh, I see. We don’t handle visions like that here. I would suggest you try the Oracles of Shade. Yes, they handle visions of the future and their interpretation. Yes, I know how expensive they are which is why we don’t handle such things. Ok, have a good day.” Then she hung up.
“Sorry about that. Now what can I do for you.” She once again turned her attention to Mark as she adjusted her glasses.
“Well I need help with making something.” He said quietly, shrinking slightly under her gaze.
“Ok”, she said turning to search in the rather large in/out tray. “Are you a sculptor, artist or writer.” She asked still searching her pile of paperwork for the correct form to complete.
“No, I’m a” and before he could answer she turned back toward him and cut him off, “You’re not a goddamn psychic are you?” She said accusingly, her silver eyes boring into him trying to discover if he was indeed a psychic before he could answer.
“You would be the fifth one we’ve had today and I just don’t have the time to deal with you people.”
“No, no, I’m not a psychic. I’m an inventor.” He said.
“Oh, ok that’s better.” She said looking him up and down once more with those silver eyes. Turning back to the rather large stack of papers she called over her shoulder, “What have you invented?”
“Well you probably aren’t going to believe this, but I’ve invented a time machine.” He said rather sheepishly. He was astounded by how truly crazy the whole thing sounded now that he had said it out loud.
“Humph”, she sighed exasperated, closed her eyes and shook her head. Then turning back towards him she said, “We don’t do that here. Time isn’t something that can be easily messed with.”
“Well what do you do here?” He asked tired of the receptionist’s sarcastic tone.
“Mostly we deal with engineers, mathematicians, physicists and the even the occasional theorist, but we don’t dabble in time travel.” Her tone had softened a bit.
“Well I received your card from a someone who said you also deal with the construction of devices.” He shot back at her.
“That’s true, we do sometimes help with the creative process there, helping inventors such as yourself overcoming stumbling points, but not in dealing with time travel.” She said putting the emphasis on the “not”.
“Why not?” Mark asked becoming more confrontational.
“Because it can be messy.” She replied. Just then a small bald man approached her and handed her a file. She quickly looked it over and said, “No we can do that, but not at that cost. What the fuck do they think we’re running here. Kindly remind them that we are a for profit organization which means that if they want this done in that time frame then it’s going to cost them.” She wrote something on the file, closed it and handed the file back to the man. He turned to leave and as an after thought she called back after him, “Tell them it has to be cash or gold. None of this ground floor stock option shit. I did that last one as a favor to Jobs and now I have computers that I can’t balance a checkbook with.”
She turned her focus back on Mark. “What a shambles that whole thing was.” She muttered under her breath.
“Look, I have this idea on how to manipulate time and I have the whole thing figured out except for two hurdles. I was told that you could help with inventions and as crazy as this one sounds I need to finish it. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
“Understandable, but you must realize that messing with time, no matter how tame or trivial you might think your actions are would have dire consequences in the here and now. Regardless of your intentions.”
“I understand that, but this is a serious situation!!” He says with more than slight panic in his voice.
The receptionist doesn’t even acknowledge that he spoke, but just continues to speak as if she were never interrupted. “Changing things that have already happened alters not only the shape of events directly, but everything that comes afterward. It’s the butterfly effect. You change things by altering what happened, but also forcing things to happen that shouldn’t. For example, you stop a car accident from happening and maybe someone that was involved gets to their destination only to cause a nuclear melt down killing thousands of people. This might have been prevented if that person had been in the accident they were supposed to have been in.”
“You can’t know that for sure.” Mark says incuriously.
“No I can’t, but it’s a possibility. It’s also a possibility that whatever you do could cause reality to blink out of existence. No existence, no people, no people no money and as you have heard me state to my associate we are a for profit organization.”
“It could also work the other way. Everything might be alright or even better than it was before.”
“That’s true, but now you’re playing dice with existence and quite honestly you really don’t look like the kind of inventor who has had much success playing odds.” She said curtly.
Quite true. Mark’s inventions up to this point have been rather limited. He did fine a new way for clothes pins to be manufactured that would require no springs, and he created a new flap on milk cartons that would save packaging plants some costs, but over all he wasn’t really a raving success. That’s why he knew he had a winner with the time machine idea. That’s why he spent nearly every day of the last three years honing and perfecting his idea. At first the problems seemed overwhelming on how to create a time machine. Little by little though he had made strides until only two obstacles remained. Try as he might he couldn’t over come those last hurdles. Then, just as he was about to give up, a package appeared with the Abstract Ideas Inc. card and a letter explaining that they could help. He first thought it was a joke played on him by one of his former friends, but then one day while out for supplies he stumbled upon the building with the dirty sign in the window. He mulled it over for days. A company like that couldn’t exist, but then neither should a working time machine. He couldn’t just ignore the possibility of finishing his machine. This compelled him to come here today to see if they could indeed help him.
“Look,” he said screwing up all of his nerve, “I need to finish this, I need to fix something in my past and I have your card, a letter and a gift certificate that says you will help.”
“Shit.” The receptionist said in a small voice, “You have certificate five?” She asked.
Quickly he retrieved the envelope from his back pocket and pulling out the certificate he saw that he did indeed have certificate five. It was engraved with his name and read:
This certificate entitles the above bearer to any help, assistance, guidance and/or advice on the completion of one and only one abstract thought, idea or device. This certificate is not transferable, negotiable or refundable.
He handed the certificate over to the receptionist who quickly read it and then crumpled in her seat. She removed her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger.
“Well, that’s just great. Just great. I know that this little time bomb was going to bite me in the ass.” She said with a marked cracking in her voice.
Waving the slip of paper back and forth she continued, “At the time, I thought this would be a great way to drum up business, but what a mess. These things have been nothing, but a thorn in my side ever since the first one came in. I suppose that you have to have your machine completed?” She asked.
“Yes, that’s what I want.” Mark said handing over a rather large tome of schematics and diagrams.
“I don’t suppose you would want to change your mind. Maybe we could get you a device that turns lead into gold or makes precious jewels out of paste.” She asked. Mark just shook his head no.
Sighing she put the certificate on top of the book. Another short bald man appeared from the many cabinets, picked up the book and was prepared to leave when he turned and asked, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, that’s what the certificate says.” She replied.
“Very well.” The bald man said and then disappeared into the stacks.
“Come back this time next week and it will be ready.” She told him.
“Next week. Couldn’t you have it ready sooner?” He asked.
“No”, was all she said. The phone then rang and as she picked it up she shooed him out the door.
“Abstract Ideas Inc., how can I help you.” She said as her eyes followed him as he made his way slowly out the door.
“No, no, no. We do not help pray gods back into existence. If they’re dead they’re dead for a reason…” That was all of the conversation he caught before he closed the door behind him and headed down stairs to the bottom floor of the building and out to the busy street.
February 16th 2005