Lester had been using his FreezIt device for just over a year without a problem. As far as he was concerned it was simple. You put food you didn’t want now in it and then, when you needed it later, you called it up from the registry and it was there. He was aware that there were all sorts of technical things happening that made it different from the old fashioned deep freezers, but he never really thought too hard about these things.
For a start, it wasn’t very big. Certainly not big enough to store all of the food he had put in it over the months. He didn’t know where it went, but on the box it had mentioned quantum and tachyons and he assumed it shrank it or something. When it all came down to it he didn’t really care. Sometimes, although not often, the device would give an error code “709”. When he first got this error, Lester checked the troubleshooting section at the back of the owner’s manual.
709: This error indicates that an item does not require storing. Simply discard the item or use it immediately.
He never quite understood this, but was happy to follow the advice.
The machine was a little ugly, and he wished he’d paid a bit more for the fancier looking model. But he liked it because it was easy to use, and did what it claimed. He loved the idea of the registry. Without even opening the thing you could scan through it, find out what was stored in there and call it up. You could search by the item name or by categories which you could assign yourself when you put something in it. Then, after you found what you wanted you pressed a button and there it was, fresh as the day you put it in, and ready to cook or consume or whatever.
You could do it the next day, or ten years from now, or even a hundred years (so it claimed on the ads)! The food would never spoil, not even slightly. In fact it didn’t deteriorate in any way. You could put a half melted ice cube in the device, and in three months’ time take it out of the device still half melted. He found he used it much more than he thought, and soon it became indispensable. He loved it so much he had decided to start saving up for the upgrade.
Then, gradually, he started getting the 709 error more and more. When he first got the machine, the rejection rate was something like once every couple of months, and usually on pretty weird stuff. But slowly it got more and more frequent. In the last month the machine had rejected well over half of what he had tried to put in it. When it got to the point where he only had a few items in the registry he took it to a repair shop and asked if they had seen this problem before.
‘Ummm, yeah, we’ve seen the 709 quite a bit. These little old ladies bring in these gizmos they don’t know how to use. Used to be we would check out the machines, which always worked fine, and give them back. Tell them it’s user error, you know, and send them on their way. Like I say, they are always old people. You are easily the youngest person I’ve seen with this problem.
‘The thing is, we’ve had so many of these that just last week we had a guy from the company come and tell us all about it. Do you actually know how these things work?’
Lester shook his head. ‘Does it shrink the food?’
‘Nah, you’re way off. You see, these things - what they do is... jeez I don’t know how to say it. They actually send the stuff into the future.’
Lester started blankly at him. ‘You saying this thing travels through time?’
‘Nah... Well yeah, sort of. So you put your stuff in the hole here, right, and it sends it forward in time, into the future.’
‘Well that’s the clever thing. It sends it as far as it needs it. See what happens is, let’s say you put a steak in, right? You say “here’s a 400 gram steak” and you punch it into the registry. Well at some point in the future you’re gonna go “man, I feel like a steak”, and you’re gonna go have a look in the registry, and there it is. So you say “give me that steak” and out it comes. But what it does, is sends a message back in time to when you put it in saying “here’s when I need it” and so it does.’
‘This is insane. So you don’t have to know when you need it?’
‘Nup. Well, you will eventually tell it, but only when you need it. So you tell it in the future. And if you never go to get something out of it, then it knows that as soon as you put it in, so it will 709 you.’
‘So what you’re saying is that someone somewhere invented time travel and all they use it for is a kitchen appliance?’
‘Well, I’ve heard they use it for all sorts of secret things, but this is the only commercial thing they use it for, yeah. Now... here’s the thing, and I’m really sorry. These little old ladies who are getting 709ed? The reason is, they don’t need this stuff in the future, right? The machine knows this. And, and again I’m sorry, but the reason they don’t need this stuff is that they... they aren’t long for this world, if you know what I mean.’
‘They’re gonna die?’
‘Well yeah. You see if they’re not around to pull it out, then the machine never gets told when to send it to, so they get 709ed. I’m real sorry to have to be the one to tell you.’
‘Yeah, you see the reason you’re getting 709ed is that this machine knows that you won’t be using it. Once you pull that last item out...’
‘I’m... I’m gonna die? You’re telling me that this... glorified deep freeze is telling me when I’m going to die?’
‘Well not exactly when, but yeah, pretty much. Sorry, mate.’
When Lester got home he put the FreezIt on the kitchen bench, slumped down into a chair and simply looked at it. Eventually he turned it on and flicked through the registry. There were only four items listed. He called up one of them: a half finished apple pie with ice cream. He took it out - the pie was still hot, the ice cream still cold. He put it aside, and looked at the remaining three items in the registry. He called up the next, some sausages, and the next, some yoghurt. The last item was an unsliced hunk of ham. He looked at the store date in the registry. The Christmas he had bought that ham was also the Christmas where he had bought himself the FreezIt. He guessed that it was the first food item he had put in it to store, after all the little test runs and experiments. And now here it was, possibly the last item he might ever take out.
He grabbed the pie, entered it back into the machine. After all, the machine knew that he needed it, so he must still need it, right? Surely he could just put it back in?
He tried again.
He tried the sausages.
The yoghurt worked! It was in! With a sigh of relief he tried the sausages again.
He got the yoghurt out, looked at it, and put it back in.
He tried again.
He now knew for certain that he should never pull the ham out. The ham was only in there because he was going to pull it out at some time in the future. While it was in there he was safe: he could not die. And he did not want to die. Not, at least, at the hands of a kitchen appliance. Lester took the machine outside, and dropped it on the ground. All he needed to do was destroy it with the ham still inside. He grabbed a large piece of wood from his shed and hit it so that it made a satisfying crunch. He hit it again and again. He kept hitting it and hitting it over and over until he was sure it was dead.
When he finished, he surveyed his efforts. One of his strikes, presumably an early one, had hit the retrieve button. The now smashed ham was sitting in the receptacle. He had sealed his fate.
Lester went inside and waited for the inevitable.
He waited for days. Weeks. He bought only fresh food and suffered no health problems. Slowly, over the months, his fear of death abated. Gradually he decided that the guy at the repair shop had no idea what he was talking about; as if a machine could predict the future! Eventually he bought a new FreezIt. With a touch of symbolism he also bought a hunk of unsliced ham. When he got home, he unpacked it all, and put the ham in the machine. It accepted it fine. He took it out, he put it back in. He put some bread in. Some butter. Some cheese. Over the course of an afternoon he put the entire contents of his pantry into the FreezIt. He put non food items in. Everything went in.
As he was glancing around for more things to put in, his eyes fell on the machine’s instruction manual, and he noticed a bright yellow sticker on the front: “Updated Troubleshooting guide!” He flicked to the back and read:
709: This error indicates that an item does not require storing as it will not be required in the future. Simply discard the item or use it immediately. If this error constantly appears it may indicate that your machine is nearing the end of its useful life. The machine will store all current items as normal until the last stored item is removed, at which time the machine may malfunction and will need replacing. If this happens within the first 12 months of ownership return it to place of purchase for a full refund or replacement.