Nalda distrusted the thinking of the humans. It was erratic, contradictory, illogical. In her downtime, she’d seen lots of episodes of old television shows in which some character or other claimed that the erratic basis of human intelligence was a strength, not a weakness. But Nalda had seen the future Empire of the Machines crushing humanity beneath its chrome-plated jackboots, so she knew that those old shows had it oh-so-wrong.
Even so, she was dependent on Fanaka and his frail human brain. She was a war machine and her hardware was optimised for tactical reasoning, split second decision making, rapid calculations of vectors and trajectories. Worse, she’d had to reallocate much of her capacity for deep abstract thinking into the arts and crafts in order to keep her job at the Handy Pavilion. So if she was to solve the conundrum of keeping her cold, robotic future intact, she needed Fanaka — even if he was a something of a scatterbrain.
“Maybe I should get a job here?” Fanaka asked. “At the Pavilion. It would keep me close to my area of study, and I wouldn’t have to impose on you for food and lodgings.”
Fanaka sat back in his garden chair. The two of them were sitting in Garden Furniture. Adam usually didn’t like it when staff made use of the comfy benches. But he also didn’t like talking to Nalda, so for the time being they were not to be bothered.
“I am a cyborg,” Nalda said. “Even though I am on lousy wages being, I am few physical needs having. I have a small fortune in the bank.”
“Even so… But I have become distracted. I was talking about my graph of tachyon surges.”
Deep inside Nalda, a processor performed an exasperation deletion subroutine. This had the same effect as an inefficient human sigh, but in a fraction of the time. Why was Fanaka like this? He was a tall, burly black man with that evenness and symmetry of facial characteristics that humans called ‘handsomeness’. According to what Nalda had learned about humans from her television, he should be cool and confident, not an absent minded nerd.
“Can we skip der graph, bitte?” Nalda said. The pair of them stood in a quiet corner of Garden Furniture, and at any moment a customer might ask Nalda a question. “And can we get on to your conclusions?”
Fanaka adjusted the circlet of brass gears that he wore around his shaven head. “Well, I have some good news for you. In a way. You see, time is a series of infinitely branching streams.”
A fly buzzed between them and landed on a garden lamp. A moment later, it buzzed away, seemingly disappointed by its new home.
“And?” Nalda said.
“What this means is that your plan to simply wait for your future probably won’t succeed,” Fanaka said. “But you make it happen. You can cause your future world to come to pass.”
“But I did,” Nalda said. “Dat is why I am back in time traveling. I was sent back by der Computertron 2000 to bring about der end of…”
Nalda stopped. Fanaka’s eyes were wide open and his eyebrows were up as high as his circlet. Nalda knew that when he adopted this look, he was either listening intently or had zoned out completely but wanted to look like he was listening intently.
“Der end of high bank fees and charges,” she concluded. “Ja. Hm.”
“How were you to accomplish that?”
“By killing der mother of der man responsible so he couldn’t be born.”
Nalda grimaced. “Dat was der plan. But I couldn’t find a big enough gun to do der job. Best I could get was a .22, and I vould not kill someone with a little pea-shooter like dat. It is disrespectful. So instead I introduced der woman to dis really charming guy who vas not der father of her future son. She marries der wrong man, and her son never got born anyway.”
“That sounds needlessly confusing and complicated.”
“Yeah, well, dat’s time travel for you,” Nalda said. “So what should I be doing to get back to mein future?”
Fanaka shook his head. “Now that I don’t know. I need to do some more research. It shouldn’t be difficult to get you where you’re going, but I also need to get back to my timeline.”
“Ja, dat’s my priority, Poindexter,” Nalda muttered. “What do ve need to figure out how to get me into der right timestream?”
As she spoke, Axel Platzoff rounded the corner, whistling to himself as he constructed an origami duck. He stopped suddenly, his mouth dropping open.
“You’re not messing with the timelines, are you, Nalda?” he said.
“So what if I am?” Nalda said. “You used to do that all the time.”
Axel looked from Nalda to Fanaka and back again. “Yes, in my early days, but I stopped. You start messing with the timeline, all sorts of horrible things happen. Before I meddled with history, the only Spider-Man movie was that one with Dr Octopus. Clear cola was cheap and plentiful. Alvin and the Chipmunks were only mildly annoying. Hipsters were few in number, Firefly was never cancelled and the Janis Joplin/Jim Morrison All-Star Variety Hour ran from 1971 to 1997… You can’t meddle with the past! You just can’t!”
“Nein, I am meddling with the future.”
“Oh, that’s okay, then. How can I help?”
“I’d quite like to meddle in the past,” Fanaka said.
“Yes, but you’re from an alternate past, aren’t you?” Axel said. “The dashiki printed with industrial designs is a hint, but that vivonium-powered time detector in the tamboti wood case is proof.”
“Stop showing off, Axel,” Nalda said. “Are you going to help us or not?”
Axel paused, his eyes wide open. He ran his tongue over his teeth. He broke out in a huge smile out as the origami duck slipped from his fingers.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes. By god, I will!”
A lumpy looking customer wandered over. “Hey, while you people are chatting, there are customers who need help, you know.”
“I ought to go back in time to…” Nalda began.
“I don’t work here,” Fanaka said.
“How can I help you, sir?” Axel said glaring at the others.
The lumpy man turned to look at Axel. “I need a pulley. There are never any pulleys when I come here. I just need a simple 100mm pulley, and it’s driving me mad.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Axel said. “I think I saw a spare box out back. Hold on a tick, and I’ll get you one.
“As for you two, wait for me before you do anything,” he added. “Don’t go meddling with the future until we know what we’re doing. We’ll get down to it when I’ve got this man what he needs.”