A Real Time Saver
It all started when the bank’s computer crashed on a Friday afternoon.
There was no question of closing the doors; the Central Motors factory, Parker’s Department Store, and both plastics plants – not to mention all the state government agencies - issued paychecks on alternate Fridays. While most customers had direct deposit, the turnover in these institutions was such that there were always many new employees bearing live paychecks. The bank manager instituted Downtime Protocol without hesitation. Of course, this meant slower, manual operating methods.
That’s what drove Tom Gleason to distraction. He hated waiting in line. He hated waiting, period.
To kill time…
What a terrible atrocity to perpetrate on that precious commodity, he thought.
To kill time, Tom pulled out his UltraLite Pocket Device. Part phone, part network hub, part biometrics interface, part computer; this latest model boasted a 2.6 terahertz hexadecimal-core processor and plenty of memory.
These sure have come a long way in the last few years, Tom realized as he thumbed open the main menu.
There were seven customers in front of him as he checked his business email. There were six customers in front of him as he verified his availability against the calendar app and accepted a meeting invitation. Personal email, five customers. Nothing new but spam. Gotta update my filter. Social network site, four customers. Professional newsletter RSS feed, three customers. Latest chess problem from patzersunited.net, two customers; and it was a ridiculously easy puzzle requiring minimal effort.
He was halfway through a game of Lightning Round when a voice called, “Can I help you sir? Sir? I can help whoever is next.” Startled, Tom looked up, pocketing the UltraLite and advancing to have his royalty check cashed for weekend spending money; all the while thinking what a waste of time the last twelve minutes had been.
decided to put the weekend, and the money, to good use. Separate from the money
he (and his accountant) managed for his technology business, Tom’s royalty
checks from the various patents he had developed over the years were his to
spend at his own discretion. At Parker’s electronics department he bought a
bare-bones high-end UltraLite box, and some components he planned to customize
for it. Back in his workshop, which he called his “lab” but his fiancée, Natalie,
designated a “Den
of Disarray“, Tom overwrote the new box’s operating system with a creation of
his own, optimized for hardware-intensive work.
Late Saturday night, an observer would have found a disheveled Tom (who had not slept since Friday morning) inert at his desk, as a timer on his fledgling device counted down to zero. Abruptly, Tom stirred, as if reanimated. “Three minutes…” he muttered. “I think this is going to work. Just needs a little calibration.”
When the first stage was completed, he actually got to bed Sunday afternoon and slept until Monday morning.
Much as he would have preferred to assign himself as a dedicated resource to his new pet project, Tom did have a business to run. He spent the week on the phone, online, and on the tasks of his clients, prospective clients, developers, database administrators, and hardware geeks. When he wasn’t reviewing contracts and technical statements of work, he was checking the statuses of the work his men and women were doing in the field. When he wasn’t riding herd on the hired help, he was doing some of the work himself. Only after business hours would he devote any attention to the ”Resequencer”, as he called it – and even then regular work often intruded on his post-business hours, trumping his new gadget in a bid for his time.
Tom also took two nights off, though not consecutively, to spend time with Natalie. One night they went dancing. The band played a tune Tom had never heard before, but which reminded him of “Moonlight Serenade”. He held Natalie in his arms as they gently slow-danced.
“Tommy, honey,” she murmured in his ear.
“Why haven’t you called me lately?” Natalie was an elementary school teacher. Anybody else would have asked, “How come you haven’t called…?”
“I did call you, Nat. That’s why we’re here.”
“I mean before that. It had been days. Were you tied up?”
“You know how it is with my business, honey. You have your homework, and I have mine.”
“And when you’re not working, you’re working – on new stuff to patent.” Yes, she said “stuff”. No teacher is perfect. In fact, teachers can be, as a breed, notorious hypocrites, grammatically speaking.
“Yes, I am working on new stuff. But tonight, I am spending with you.”
He squeezed her tightly against himself for a moment, and then relaxed his hold to a gentle one again. They danced on in happy silence.
On their other date night they went to the movies. The multiplex’s queue was in no way diminished by the fact that the latest blockbuster had been in release for nearly a week. Half of Tom’s mind was devoted to holding Natalie’s hand and playfully flirting to kill time (There it was again!), while the other half was reflecting how his handy new device would come in right about now, if only it were perfected. Mentally, he added “Movie Theatre” to his list of test cases.
As the weeks, and then months, passed, Tom’s sense of frustration mounted. When he had first begun, he had been certain that he could finish the Resequencer project in a matter of weeks. It proved more complex and challenging than he had anticipated. Also, his tech business continued to encroach on his after-hours. If only he had more time. (That thought again.)
One afternoon, between a conference call at his downtown office and an on-site meeting at a client’s several miles away, Tom stopped at the local outlet of a drugstore chain to buy an electric razor, thinking it would save him some time (There it was again!) every morning. As he was selecting a brand, the music over the P.A. pined something about saving time in a bottle. Tom wanted to pull his hair out.
Driving to his client’s he reflected, That’s exactly what I’m trying to do: save time.
As it turned out, time wasn’t the most difficult dimension to master; it was the other three.
His first field test was in the bank that had started it all. There were four people ahead of him as he thumbed the button on the Resequencer. He came to himself with a start as the woman behind him bumped into him. He looked at the readout: 30 seconds had passed. He apologized to the woman and took a few steps forward. He turned the Resequencer off while he finished waiting (sigh) in line and transacting his business. It was just a simple withdrawal he could have performed at the ATM outside, but he had also wanted to perform the test.
Tom had dinner at Natalie’s that night. She could tell he was distracted.
Over coffee and cherry pie (his favorite), she asked, “You want to talk about it, Tom?”
Hoping he wasn’t in trouble for something he had done – or failed to do – he replied, “Talk about what?”
“Honey, I know you. You’ve been thinking about something all evening, besides me.” Natalie didn’t sound offended, merely stating a fact.
He sipped his coffee to give him time (Again with this!) to think. You caught me, Teach. I’m busted. He mustered a grin, “I’ve been thinking about something all evening in addition to you.”
“Don’t play semantics with me,” she rejoined. “I’m better at it than you.”
“That’s true,” admitted Tom. He sighed while marshaling his thoughts. “Okay. I went to the bank today.”“Yeah? And….?”
“Well, it started another time I was at the bank.”
“Fine, Tom. Pick a bank, pick a time, and start at the beginning.”
He did so. “It all started when the bank’s computer crashed, on a Friday afternoon…”
Natalie listened thoughtfully and attentively. When Tom had completed his recital, she asked, “So you are able to ‘save’ time when you stand in line for, say three minutes, such that, subjectively, no time passes for you.”
“Yes, and if I have saved it correctly, I will be able to redeem it later; when I can actually use it to accomplish something useful, for example in the lab.”
“Ah yes, the fabled Den of Disarray.”
Tom made a face. “Honey, why do you call it that?”
“Because I wanted to call it something cute that rhymes with ‘Den of Iniquity’ (which does not suit you at all), but I can’t think of a rhyme for ‘iniquity’ which indicates anything appropriate, such as technology, industry, or disarray.”
“Hmm… ‘Den of… Antiquity’? ‘Propinquity’? ‘Equity’? ‘Ubiquity’?
“Ha!” laughed Natalie. “’Den of Ubiquity’ isn’t bad. In fact, it’s close.”
“No,” retorted Tom. “’Den of Propinquity’ is close.”
“Don’t cross verbal swords with a teacher, Thomas!” she warned.
“Okay, Natalie. For you, I’ll behave.”
“You’d better. Now, I think I was just at the point of asking you: If you can save time successfully, what is the trouble?”
“The trouble is that it does no good to save time in line, if you have to wake up every 30 seconds to take a couple of steps and then zone out again. The idea is to activate the Resequencer when you get in line; and immediately, from the subject’s point of view, he finds himself at the head of the line after three minutes have passed for everybody else, but not for him.”
“Or her,” Tom agreed. “Are you volunteering as a test subject?”
“Not on your life.”
“Okay then. Let us say three minutes have passed for everybody else, but not for me. And I still have those three minutes to redeem later, in the Den of… Romance.”
“First we clear the table. Then we romance, doll-baby.”
“You got a deal.”
“’You have a deal,” she corrected him.
“So do you, cute stuff!”“Oh, Tom…”
Tom’s next field trial was at the multiplex. This time, he remained alone at the end of the line; but still did not advance as he planned to. When two minutes had passed there were several feet between Tom and the person in front of him. Then a newcomer, thinking Tom was still staring at the displays deciding which movie to see, brushed past him to close up the gap in the line. As the guy brushed against him, Tom came to himself. He checked the elapsed time: 2 ½ minutes.
Back to the old drawing board.
The next time he tried the Resequencer in the bank, Tom met with better success. Over the course of four and a half minutes, he advanced periodically, mechanically, without conscious thought to the head of the line. From Tom’s point of view, he simply got in line, thumbed the Resequencer into ‘save’ mode, and woke up an instant later at the head of the line. He couldn’t wait to tell Natalie.
The next time Natalie saw him, Tom didn’t see her – at least not right away.
Natalie rang the bell at Tom’s. No answer.
He’s head-down on that silly Resequencer, the geek. Bet he doesn’t even hear the bell when he’s working.
She let herself in. “Tom?” she called. “Are you here?”
Walking through the house, Natalie eventually entered the workshop. Tom sat at his desk, staring, as still as a stone.
“Tom? Are you all right, honey?”
No response. No movement.
She ran to him. “Tom! Baby, are you all right?”
She shook him. “What’s happened to –“
He suddenly stirred, as a man waking up. “Oh, hi, honey.”
“’Hi, honey’! Is that all you can say? You scared the living daylights out of me!”
“But I was only – “
Suddenly she understood. “Oh. It’s that Resequencer thing, isn’t it.” She made it a statement. “That’s what happens when you ‘save time’. For you, no time passes; to everyone else, you’re frozen. That’s weird. And scary.”
Tom had never thought about how the phenomenon might appear to others. “I suppose it must look a little strange.”
“A little strange? That’s like saying a jumbo jet is slightly oversize. What happens when you redeem the time you saved and try to use it?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I was just about to find out.”
He consulted the device in his hand. “Let’s see. I saved three minutes here at the desk, 30 seconds at the bank, two and a half minutes at the multiplex, another four and a half minutes at the bank, and another minute just now sitting here at the desk. So that’s a total of eleven and a half minutes. How about if I start with just getting one minute back?”
Natalie looked a bit frightened. “What do you think will happen?”
“Well, I guess maybe I’ll have an extra minute to work, and you will appear stationary.”
He set the “playback” time for one minute.
“Okay,” said Natalie. “Go ahead and use your minute.”
“I just did.”
“Oh, right. You said I’d appear stationary to you. So for me no time passed. Did the minute pass for you? Normally?”
“It sure did,” he declared gravely. “A full minute elapsed for me. All 60 seconds. But I was stationary, too. I couldn’t move. It was like being paralyzed.”
“Oh, no. What do you think happened?”
“I have the time dimension under control. It plays back fine. But in the other three dimensions – left-right, up-down, forward-back – I still can’t move.”
“Oh, I don’t know about this, Tommy. I think maybe you’d better abandon the whole project.”
“How can I do that, Natalie? When I’m so close!”
“Close? You were paralyzed. You call that close?”
“When I’m saving time, I can move in those other dimensions when time is not passing. I’m not even awake, so to speak, and I can move. Surely I can figure out how to move when time plays back.”
“Tom, I know you. When you get like this, there’s no talking you out of anything. God knows I know you, and when I get home I am going to get on my knees and pray to Him that you get this resolved; because if you don’t, I’m afraid something will happen and I will never get to marry you!”
Natalie ran out in tears.
It took another two weeks for Tom to perfect playback in four dimensions. To limit the number of variables while he was debugging his device, he would save a single minute at his desk, and later play it back while sitting there. He was not certain that all the time he had saved previously, under a different configuration, would be subject to the new adjustments when redeemed.
The day finally came when he could save a minute and use it again in complete normalcy. He supposed that, as it had been when Natalie was there, anyone in the room would appear inanimate. Certainly, the clock on his good old UltraLite stayed set at 11:05 for two minutes by the Resequencer’s chronometer: one minute of real-time and one minute of real-time-suspended playback time. More importantly, Tom could get up, walk around, and talk out loud during the playback minute.
He had, he thought, finally licked the problem. He called Natalie to invite her out to celebrate.
“Honey,” he exulted, “Your prayers are answered!”
They stood at the top of the stoop in front of Natalie’s building, waiting for the cross-town bus. They were going to see a show in a part of town where parking would be next to impossible, so she had suggested the bus.
“Tom,” she confided, “I’m so glad you have this time-saver thing out of your system. I was so worried that something terrible would happen.”
He put his arm around her. “Sweetheart, you worry too much. But I don’t mind. It just means that you love me.”
“You bet I do.” She looked up the street. “Bus’ll be here in about ten minutes.”
Tom had a thought. “We can fix that, you know…” He reached for the Resequencer in his pocket.
That thing scared her to death now.
“Thomas Barrymore Gleason, don’t you dare!”
She pulled away from him. His arm was still around her as she pulled away, and it threw her off balance just enough. She teetered and fell down the concrete steps before he could catch her.
He ran down the steps after her. She landed at the bottom, striking her head against the sharp edge of a step, and lay still.
“Oh, no!” Tom cried.
She didn’t seem to be breathing. He couldn’t find a pulse. He put an ear to her chest: No heartbeat.
“Oh dear God, dear God!” he exclaimed. “Help me know what to do for her!”
Distraught, he pulled a device out of his pocket, intending to call 911. His thumb hit the stud he thought would pull up the main menu - but the device was not his UltraLite; it was the Resequencer.
Suddenly, he was in line at the bank. Thoroughly disoriented, he didn’t know where he was, why he was there, or even when he was there. Dumbly, he looked down at the device in his hand. It was counting down from 4:30… 4:29… 4:28…
He still didn’t understand why he was at the bank, but he did know how many blocks there were between the bank and Natalie’s stoop – and that he could not possibly get there in four minutes.
But he had to try, anyway.
Tom ran out of the bank, around the corner, and up the street. He ran and ran. As he ran, he tried to think. Gotta save Natalie… Why was I at the bank?... Does it mean something that can help me?
Why was I at the bank?...
Another four blocks… I’ll never make it…
Can’t give up…
Why was I at the bank?...
He passed a newsstand. He was vaguely aware of a headline about a fire…
Tom slowed… A fire that had happened almost a month ago.
He turn around, ran back…
He looked at the date on the newspaper: A date from the previous month.
It was the day he had first made it through the line successfully at the bank with the Reseq-
Where am I now?
Noise, crowd, line…
I’m in the theatre, the multiplex theatre.
Why am I here, in a line?
Wait a minute… The theatre.
Gotta think… Gotta save Natalie… Gotta think…
Tom abandoned the line to sit on a bench.
He looked around.
These shows were playing… over a month ago.
First I was in the bank… Now I’m in the theatre…
But I did the successful field trial in the bank after the failed trial in the theatre.
Here comes that man that brushed against me that day…
Oh! It’s a stack! The last one you put on is the first one that comes off…
That means the next place I’ll be is…
He was back where the first field trial failed: In the bank. But he knew he only had…
… thirty seconds here.
No point in running. But before the field trial was a lab trial.
It was his last chance.
He would be in the lab for…
He knew he only had three minutes. He grabbed a pen.
He hastily scrawled on the desk’s notepad: “Abandon Resequencer or Natalie dies!”
He booted up the Resequencer, the one on the desk.
He wiped the Resequencer’s UltraLite of all programming except the operating system.
He quickly disassembled the unit …
… and removed the custom components.
He was reassembling the UltraLite when his three minutes ran out.
Abruptly, Tom stirred, as if reanimated. “Three minutes…” he muttered.
Then he felt something. He felt a time loop closing. He didn’t know what a time loop was, but he knew one was closing.
It was the Saturday night following the Downtime Protocol Friday in the bank. He had just purchased the new UltraLite. He had never built the Resequencer. He didn’t know what one was.
Natalie was safe and sound.
He stopped to reflect. Why had he just said that?
“Three minutes? Until what, I wonder?”
He looked down at his notepad. It read: “Abandon Resequencer or Natalie dies!” The note was in his handwriting, but he didn’t remember writing it. He wondered what a “Resequencer” was. Mechanically, without conscious thought; he tore off the sheet, crumpled it, and threw it away.
Then he noticed the partially disassembled (which was actually a partially reassembled) UltraLite. He put it back together and turned it on. As his custom operating system booted up, he thought aloud, “When did I buy this – and what was I going to use it for?” Then he remembered he had been meaning to upgrade his home wireless system. This new UltraLite would be just the thing. It was already purchased, and it even had his custom operating system installed.
That would save him some time.