art by Wi Waffles
Join Our Team of Time Travel Professionals
by Sarah Pinsker
The sounds of half-tuned electric guitars blasted from the doorways of Manny's and Sam Ash, dueling across the grimy patch of 48th St known as Music Row. Magda waited until the group of time tourists she was following had turned the corner, then plunged her arm into the nearest garbage can. Her hand encountered something slimy.
"Ugh," she said, not for the first time that day. She wished she could wear gloves, but they weren't part of her new uniform.
"Are you complaining, Magda?" asked her supervisor, Lwazi, through her jawbone implant. "In your first hour on the job?"
The nice thing about her cover identity was that Magda could respond freely. Manhattan in 1985 didn't have jawbone communication, but it did have plenty of bag ladies who talked to themselves. Magda was temporarily one of them.
"No sir," she responded. "Not complaining."
"Good. There are plenty of people who would jump at this job if you don't want it."
Magda returned to her task. Her search of the garbage can yielded two Fauxcolate wrappers and an empty hydration pod. She wondered why they bothered bringing Fauxcolate to a time when they could buy the real thing; from what she had heard there was no comparison. She stuffed the trash into one of the bags in her shopping cart and shuffled after the tourists. A job is a job, she said to herself.
She turned left on 7th Avenue, as the tourists had. She checked each garbage can they had passed, and kept her eyes open for future-refuse that hadn't quite made it to the cans, just as the training vids had instructed. Halfway down the next block she spotted a discarded box of MaryJane cigarettes. Had those been around in 1985? "When in doubt, take it out," the training had said. She grabbed it just in case, realizing too late that it was lying in a pile of dog feces.
"Eeeeech!" she said, dropping it into one of her bags and examining her hand. She wished she was allowed to carry sanitizer.
She caught up at Times Square. They were standing in the center island, gaping at the chaotic heart of the city, surrounded by peep shows and neon. Most of them blinked the shutters on their eye-cameras; only a couple seemed to remember the prop cameras around their necks. They were given cameras, costumes, and currency in lieu of training. The agency considered it more cost-effective to send guides and guards and cleanup crews than to try to teach their rich clients. New Yorkers ignored tour groups so there wasn't much risk of interaction.
"Follow, Magda." Lwazi's voice moved from her jaw to her ear. She realized she had confused her group with another, and hurried to make up the distance.
"What happens if I don't make it to the pickup with them?" she asked.
"Make it to the pickup," Lwazi said.
"But if I didn't?"