Monday, May 02, 2005

Guest Feature: Snowbored by Mark Reeder

Mark Reeder currently lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he works as a writer/editor for Centre Communications, an educational video production company. His short fiction has been published on the web at Dark Planet, Deep Magic and Quantum Muse. He is also the coauthor of the science fiction series, The Crystal Sword: A Dark kNight for the King and Queen's kNight Gambit. He has a Master's degree in history from the University of Cincinnati and has studied martial arts for 30 years.

by Mark Reeder

I sighed and scratched at the white stuff with the tip of my sandal. The wind kicked it up and sent it swirling in tiny eddies across the ground.

"Snow! ... again!" I said.

I told Max not to use the discount quantum semiconductors in the chaos accelerator. Werner even warned him about uncertainties when entangling electrons.

As always, Max refused to listen.

"Erwin, you worry too much," he'd said. "Aage has dinner with the company rep every Friday."

I volunteered to be the guinea pig anyway. I mean, I did a good job picking the winners at football, basketball, hockey and baseball. I wasn't a physicist, like the others; just their gambling friend from college with a knack for number theory that gave me a big edge. My earnings financed the chaos accelerator in the first place. Plus, I gambled nothing would happen the first time through.

Pfft! And that's how I ended up here on my fifth jump, trying to return to my time.

Swirling snow chafed my knees, turning them red. Time to get out of here.

I pulled the cell phone out my shirt pocket. Low battery light blinked red. Not good. Better save it until I'm somewhere warm, I thought.

Wrapping my arms around my body against the rising wind and my rising anxiety, I trudged through the dark toward a row of multi-colored, blinking lights in the distance. It could be Christmas; it might also be the lights inside the accelerator building, if I was close by, distance and timewise.

Christmas won out.

I knocked on the door. A young woman opened it. Air rushed out of the house and warmed my legs. She was brunette, tall, glasses, nice smile.

"Hi," I said, through chattering teeth. "May I use your phone?"

She looked askance at my clothes and sandals.

"Fraternity prank," I explained, hoping there was university within driving distance. I mean, I didn't think I was in Barrow, Alaska. On the other hand, I didn't know where this place was, let alone when. I was just glad to see electric lights. Better than the last time. I shuddered at the memory of caves and men in animal skins. "I'll just be a moment," I added.

After a glance outside to see if there was anyone else, perhaps someone with a camera, she shrugged. "Phone's in the kitchen."

I kicked the snow off my feet and followed her down a hallway.

"Name's Erwin," I said.


She led me into a brightly lit room, pointed to a wall unit next to the refrigerator. Avocado green. Ugh. A closer look and a magnetic calendar revealed January 3, 1969.

At least I was close in time.

"Thanks," I said.

I decided to dial the lab where the chaos accelerator was located. It was a long shot but I figured to try it anyway. Maybe I'd connect somehow. I mean, how do you know if the cat's alive or dead in the box until you open the box. Niehls said it might work. Something about time acting jittery with the fabric of space being filled with quantum gaps between all the electrons, quarks and gluons.

"Fuzzy time," he said. "All light can't travel at the same speed, so space time has a kind of foamy texture to it. All we have to do is catch the right wave and we can travel in time."

He handed me a cell phone before the first jump. "With this, you'll essentially be carrying a signature of time from our era. Call us on it, the accelerator will lock onto it and drag you back here as long as you're holding onto it."

"You sure?"

"It worked in the modeling we did," Paul cut in and went back to tinkering with some new equation.

I picked up her receiver, dialed the number--rotary phone, slow and irritating--and got a busy signal. Interesting. That number shouldn't have connected to anything. Thoughtfully, I placed the phone on the hook.

"Busy," I said.

She nodded and smiled. "Cup of tea?"

"Sure." I pointed to the calendar. "Bit of advice: Mets are going to take the pennant and win the series this year."

She laughed outloud. A full laugh that went beyond amused tolerance into real humor. "They couldn't catch cold."

"And the Jets will win the Super Bowl."

She didn't laugh this time. Just looked at me. I'd seen that look many times from across a poker table. "Stranger, I should take your money, but it would feel like stealing from someone being hazed as badly as you."

I remembered the bit about the fraternity prank in time to stop raising my eyebrows. "What makes you so sure I'd lose?"

"The computer at the lab where I work set the odds at a hundred to one against both events."

"You follow the teams?" I asked.

"Easy money. With the computer helping me, I manage to win at better than house odds. I made seventy grand last year."

Water kettle whistled a flat A. She turned back to the stove.

I calculated for inflation and smiled. "That's good money."

And then it hit me. I had another forty years before I caught up with the guys at the lab. Just think, all that time and all those winning odds.

I looked at the woman, pouring hot water into two cups. She was easy on the eyes and a sports fan. And about my age. All of a sudden 1969 didn't look so bad. I pulled the cell phone out of my shirt, punched in the number for the accelerator lab, waited for the ring and tossed it in her garbage while her back was turned.

I watched the can disappear with a slight popping noise, like air expanding in a hot water pipe.

She turned.

I smiled. "So, how would you like to make a small wager on the Jets?" I asked.