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The Last of Time

Ken Poyner has lately been seen in Analog, Café Irreal, The Journal of Microliterature, Blue Collar Review, and many wonderful places. His latest book of bizarre short fiction, Constant Animals, is available from his website kpoyner.com and from www.amazon.com. He is married to Karen Poyner, one of the world's premier power lifters, and holder of more than a dozen current world power lifting records. They are the parents of four rescue cats, and two senseless fish.
I clean the time machines. It is a brute labor job, but unionized, so the pay and benefits are not half bad. Particularly for someone with little education and, like me, a record holding a few early abrasions with the law. What can I say? I had an interesting youth.
Mostly the job is scratching stray seconds and the occasional minute out of the rigging, sucking up a misplaced nanosecond that somehow got into the cockpit. I have been told stories of people finding entire days wrapped around a stabilizer manifold, but I am not so sure that I believe it.
We gather everything up, take it in a containment shell through quarantine, get it sorted and stamped by the white-coat types there, then put it in the temporal re-adjuster. Through the temporal re-adjuster, with a physics the company has patented, some way it is put back in the time stream in its proper place.
I go on faith. I have never seen any changes in our present that would have come from a busted past. But it is rumored that, early on in the business, a whole week was lost. They had yet to figure out the temporal re-adjuster, and did not even then know that a time machine, with its aggressive multi-dimensional ether-folding thrift, could snag random instants and have them come back freeloading with the time riding client.
No one knows what was done with the week. It is all hush-hush even now.
None of it makes any difference to me, unless I make it to foreman. Foremen have to be certified to declare a time machine ready for the next rental. I and the crew clean the machine of any accidental time collection, a maintenance person does the check of the engine, two people who are salaried do something they call the Lorentz calibration; then the upholstery person gives it a good vacuuming and interior wipe down, and the foreman goes over all the paperwork and gauges, snarls at a dial or one-eyes a trigger switch, and declares it ready. We may do the work, but if something is wrong, it is his name on the certification, it is his chehabbas in the fire.
For all that, he has to take a test to prove he knows what he is looking for, and can see it clearly. The foreman actually gets a commission to be framed, and publicly displayed as directed by law, from the Grand Duchy of New York. Every one of the fifteen Grand Duchies of North Vespuccia has its own certification process, but they all recognize each other's, so you can move across Duchy lines and still keep your marketable indulgence.
Maybe one day I will go that route. But, for now, finding a union job south of the British border, with my history, was sterling luck; and so long as other people have the cash to stumble backwards through history on whatever lark they invent, I am going to keep pulling out those stray straggling moments and watch, with my good eye, my union pay token grow.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, November 5th, 2015


Most writers assume there is someone outside of any change in time who sees the change and understands that a new timeline has begun. I doubt there would be that detached perspective. Our history could be changing all the time, but we will always be the product of whatever history we sprung from. How would we know an alternative? The time stream could be fluctuating right now, but we only surf the one stream we know at the moment.

- Ken Poyner

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