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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1711269-Crackpot
by Xylch
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #1711269
Being an inventor is never easy, especially when patents have been abolished.
The room surprised Cogmeyer. It was too modern, too ordinary. He assumed an antique dealer would have furnished his office with antiques. Apparently, they were only something he sold, not something he personally enjoyed.

The desk the man was seated behind was a black plastic block supported on three polished steel cylinders. The antique dealer folded his hands and rested them on the surface of the desk, causing the text it had been displaying to disappear. He studied his visitor with narrow, guarded eyes, then said, "Mr. Oswald Cogmeyer? How may I help you?"

Cogmeyer smiled. "I'm interested in the prize you're offering, Mr. Krahn."

Krahn replied flatly, "All rules and conditions are available to be downloaded. It was not necessary for you to come here."

"Call me old-fashioned, but I like talking to the people I do business with."

Krahn made a small grunt and said, "Yes, I see."

What Krahn saw was a young man who made no attempt to follow the current trends. Cogmeyer was wearing brown corduroy pants and a tan tweed jacket over a knit vest with a bright blue and green argyle pattern that had gone out of fashion before he was born. He had unruly reddish brown hair and glasses with bulky black plastic frames.

In contrast, the antique dealer adhered firmly to the latest styles. His tunic and pants were made of a shiny black polymer with very subtle grey stripes. His head was completely hairless, not shaven but depilated. A thin film coated his eyes so he appeared to have a pair of reflective metal spheres in his sockets.

Krahn tapped the surface of his desk and a clock appeared on it. It was an obvious hint that Krahn considered this visit a waste of his time, but Cogmeyer chose to ignore it. He sat down in a chair facing the antique dealer, who realized the quickest way to get rid of his guest would be to tell him what he had come to hear.

"Like many professional organizations, the Normerican Antique Dealers Association occasionally offers prizes to promote the development of technology that would benefit its members. Currently, NADA is interested in a method of removing fractures from ceramic artifacts."

Cogmeyer grinned. "You want to uncrack crockery?"

Krahn frowned at this remark. "Do not make light of it, Mr. Cogmeyer. We are facing a crisis that threatens the very existence of the antique trade."

He was tempted to ask if antique dealers were suffering from a sudden outbreak of clumsiness, but instead Cogmeyer said, "Sorry. Ceramics have always been rather breakable. Why is it such a problem now?"

Cogmeyer guessed Krahn was rolling his eyes, but the silvery film hid any movement.

"Fine dinnerware has long been the foundation of our profession. To avoid damaging their investment, most of our clients adopted the practice of having reproductions made for dining, while they kept the original pieces safely on display. With the growing awareness of the need to eliminate unnecessary clutter, many people are deciding to dispose of their antiques, since the reproductions are the only items they actually use."

"They're just throwing them away?"

Krahn said, "Certainly not. They are selling them. While this means we have added many excellent pieces to our inventories at very favorable prices, that will not benefit us unless we can stimulate demand for them again."

Cogmeyer grinned. "I think I get it. If you find a way to fix them when they break, you figure people'll start eating off the old dishes."

"I would not have stated it so crudely, but essentially you are correct."

Cogmeyer rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "So, you're looking for some kind of adhesive?"

Krahn replied, "We are not specifying the method, but the result must be that the fracture is undetectable, even to a molecular scan."

"You're actually getting a molecular scanner for this contest?"

Krahn snorted at the question. "It is standard equipment in our profession. The better counterfeit pieces are virtually impossible to detect without one."

"Yeah, I suppose so."

"I have nothing else to tell you. Good day, Mr. Cogmeyer." Without waiting for his visitor to reply, Krahn began studying the documents that reappeared on his desktop when he tapped it.

Cogmeyer smiled as he got out of the chair. "Thanks for the info, Mr. Krahn."

---

The street outside Krahn's antique shop was crowded with people, some hurrying on their way, others gathering in small groups to chat. Cogmeyer was glad to be out of the shop. In there, he had been as out of place as a clown at a funeral, but out here he blended in unnoticed. Most residents of Pedestershire had neither the interest nor the money to be concerned with fashion like Krahn was.

As he walked along, Cogmeyer pondered the challenge the antique dealers had made. Right now, he had no idea how to accomplish what they were asking, but that just made it more intriguing to him. Besides that, he needed the money they were offering. As an inventor, he depended on prizes like this one for his income. He had been fortunate enough to win a couple rather substantial ones, but his funds would be running low before too long.

Cogmeyer decided to buy a cheap set of dishes. He had nothing to test yet, but he found once he made an investment in a problem, even if it was a small one, he became more persistent in finding a solution. It was harder than he expected to find cheap, breakable dishes. It seemed the lower the price, the more durable the material they were made of was. Finally, he found what he was looking for at one of the town's less reputable stores. The shopkeeper insisted they had been made by a leading porcelain company, but he was selling them at a fraction of their actual value because he had lost the certification. Cogmeyer did not believe his story, but it did not matter who had made them as long as they were breakable.

The box of dishes was not that heavy, but it was large enough to be awkward to carry. Cogmeyer wished he had brought the little handcart he usually took when he went shopping, but he had not been planning to make any purchases when he left. Fortunately, he did not have that far to walk. Pedestershire had been built after the introduction of the green tolls made cars a luxury few people could afford. The streets were narrow and the buildings were packed close together. Lawns would have made every walk longer, so plants were limited to window boxes and the occasional rooftop garden. For a place that was a product of the green movement, there was ironically little greenery within the town.

Cogmeyer's home was a tan sandstone building with a green copper roof. It was modestly large, but more space was devoted to his workshops than his living quarters. His housekeeper, Doloris, was waiting for him when he came in the door. That usually meant he had a visitor.

"Good evening, Mr. Cogmeyer. Miss Isabelle is here."

Cogmeyer smiled broadly as he hung up his jacket. He was always happy to see his sister. "Thank you, Doloris."

"I told her to wait for you in the parlor. Supper'll be ready in about an hour."

Cogmeyer's parlor made it obvious he had no interest in eliminating clutter. Where the walls were not filled with shelves crammed full of books, models and decorative little figures, they were covered with paintings and photographs crowded so close together the frames overlapped. It had enough lamps to light a dozen rooms, each one a different style. There were a couple couches and several overstuffed chairs, each one holding a large assortment of pillows that had to be moved to make room if anyone wanted to sit there.

Isabelle was sitting in one of the chairs, paging through a book. Her mandolin case and several pieces of luggage were on the floor beside her, so she was evidently planning to stay for awhile. When she saw him, she put the book down and rushed across the room to hug him.

"Ozzy!"

"Hi, Izzy." Cogmeyer wrapped his arms around his sister. Even though she was now a young woman of twenty three, she was still considerably shorter than her brother and as plump as he was thin. Her hair was the same reddish brown color as his and just as unruly, but she kept hers mostly under control by wearing it in a long braid down her back.

"Is it alright if I stay here a few days?" Without waiting for him to ask, she explained, "Gramma's new boyfriend's visiting and she wants me out of the house. I don't know why. It's not like I'm a kid any more who's going to be shocked if I see them kissing."

Cogmeyer guessed their grandmother was more concerned about this boyfriend's reaction to her buxom granddaughter than she was about Isabelle's reaction to what they did, but he just said, "Of course. For as long as you want."

"Thanks, Ozzy." She squeezed him tightly, then released him.

"I suppose you'll be getting a place of your own pretty soon."

Isabelle shook her head. "Won't be soon, if I ever manage it."

"I thought you were already looking for one?"

"I was, but the bank autoed my job and I got ousted. Don't need loan evaluators any more."

Cogmeyer suggested, "You could try Fred Coyne at the loc-op bank." Unlike the big corporations, businesses in the local operations movement were usually not eager to eliminate jobs with automation.

"I already asked Mr. Coyne. He doesn't use any loan evaluators at all. His bank's so small, he pretty much knows everyone who goes there and how much of a loan they can handle." Isabelle shrugged. "I guess I just picked the wrong job to train for."

Cogmeyer said softly, "I'm sorry."

Isabelle smiled at her brother and playfully slapped his arm. "Don't look so glum. It's not like it's your fault."

Cogmeyer forced himself to smile back at his sister, but he knew it very well might be his fault she had lost her job. His first major award had been for a very sophisticated pattern processor that could solve a series of puzzles. For the corporation that offered the prize, the puzzles had just been a way to find a device that could automate a multitude of activities that had previously required human judgement. Of course, he could not control what anyone else did with one of his inventions, but he still felt some responsibility for what had happened.

---

"Any idea what you're going to do for a job now, Izzy?" Cogmeyer was in his dining room, looking across the table at his sister.

"Not really, Ozzy. Mother keeps telling me I should join the band."

"You don't look too enthusiastic about that idea. I thought you liked music."

"I do. I love it." Isabelle rubbed her nose, then continued, "It's all the traveling I don't care for. I mean I like it here in Pedestershire, with you and Gramma and everybody."

"You'd be with Mother," Cogmeyer suggested.

"Yeah, but that's always so awkward. You know how little she's been home. More or less, we're just strangers."

Cogmeyer understood very well what his sister meant. "Maybe you could be a musician in town. You play so well."

"You got to say that 'cause you're my brother." Isabelle blushed slightly. "Sometimes I get a free drink or two playing at the pub, but nobody earns a living that way. The only real money is working for a ticketmongler and they make everybody follow their circuits."

Doloris came in from the kitchen to serve supper. Cogmeyer could tell it was a struggle for her to push the cart filled with food, but she always refused his offers to help her, insisting it was her job to do it. He was not certain exactly how old she was, but he knew she was over a hundred and thirty. She paused halfway across the room to catch her breath, then continued to the table.

"That smells delicious, Doloris," Cogmeyer complimented.

"Thank you, Mr. Cogmeyer. It's rutabaga stew, my own recipe."

Doloris picked up the bowl in front of Isabelle and held it next to the steel kettle on the cart as she ladled it full of stew. Her hands shook, but she managed to set the bowl back down without spilling a drop. Then she got Cogmeyer's bowl and was preparing to fill it when it slipped out of her hand.

The bowl was made of plastic that had once been white with a bright blue stripe around it. Now it had turned somewhat yellow and the stripe was rather faded. The package of dishes it came in had promised they were unbreakable and over the years Cogmeyer had dropped them often enough himself to be convinced that was true. However, age and wear must have weakened it, because this time is broke into two nearly equal pieces when it hit the floor.

Doloris stared at the broken bowl for several moments, then raised her head to look at Cogmeyer.

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Cogmeyer. I just couldn't hold it." Doloris lowered her eyes and looked at her hands.

Cogmeyer comforted her, "Don't worry. It's just one dish. We never use the whole set anyway."

Doloris pleaded, "I'll replace it. I promise. Don't send me back to the need house."

"No one's going the the need house." Cogmeyer assured her.

"I'll get another one." Isabelle said.

"No, I'll do that, Miss Isabelle." Doloris protested, but Isabelle had already slipped out of her chair and was hurrying to the kitchen.

Cogmeyer commented, "She's a good kid."

"She's a young woman, Mr. Cogmeyer, not a child any more."

"Of course, but five years younger than me seemed like a huge difference when we were growing up. And most of the time it was just Izzy and me and our grandmother, so I felt I had to watch out for her."

Doloris nodded. "Yes, I understand, Mr. Cogmeyer. It's hard to see the little ones grow up." She sighed, the continued, "But it's even harder to see them grow old. I've seen my children become elderly themselves, my grandchildren, too."

Cogmeyer tried to imagine what it would be like to be as old as Doloris was, to have seen that many generations grow up. The discouraging part was that while there were treatments to keep people alive longer, no one had yet found a way to keep them from aging. Doloris looked incredibly old, thin and bony with skin that seemed like it would crumble to dust if anyone touched it.

Isabelle returned with another bowl and handed it to Doloris.

"Here you go." Isabelle sat down again and said, "Maybe I should become a housekeeper."

Doloris looked at her sternly as she filled the bowl. "That is no job for a young woman, Miss Isabelle."

"Gramma's been showing me how to cook and I've been helping out around the house. I'm sure I could do it."

Doloris put the bowl in front of Cogmeyer and shook her head. "No, I mean you should have higher ambitions. You must want to be more than merely a housekeeper."

Isabelle swallowed a spoonful of stew and said, "I think it sounds like a pretty good deal. I'd get to live in a nice house that I didn't have to buy and I'd get paid for doing the same stuff I'd have to do if I owned it myself."

Doloris braced her arms and leaned against the cart. "Such a waste! What I'd give to be young like you again."

Cogmeyer asked, "What would you do, Doloris?"

She did not hesitate to reply, "I'd become a singer, Mr. Cogmeyer. That's what I dreamed of being when I was young."

Isabelle asked, "But you didn't become one?"

"No, I met Jim. We got married, had children. When they were grown, it was too late. My voice was gone."

Isabelle said, "So, then you became a housekeeper?"

"Not then. I worked in an insurance office until I retired."

Isabelle looked puzzled, so Cogmeyer explained, "As I understand it, people used to stop working when they reached a certain age. They called it retiring."

Doloris nodded. "Yes, Jim and I thought we had enough saved up to be comfortable for the rest of our lives. For Jim, it was, but I lived longer, much longer. The money ran out and I'd still be in the need house if Mr. Cogmeyer hadn't hired me as his housekeeper."

Cogmeyer pointed to one of the empty chairs at the table. "You could join us here, Doloris."

The housekeeper shook her head. "No, Mr. Cogmeyer, that wouldn't be right. My place's in the kitchen."

---

When they had finished their meal, Isabelle asked her brother eagerly, "Would you like to hear my new song?"

Cogmeyer smiled as he wiped his face with his napkin. "Of course, I'd love to."

"I'll be right back." She hurried out and returned with her mandolin. "I'm not sure it's quite right yet. Tell me what you think."

Isabelle played a bit of an introduction, then began singing.

"I went down to the harbor. I went there yesterday.
I sat upon the shore, as a tall ship sailed away.

Her sails were all unfurled. The wind was blowing fast.
She carried my love to his future, and left me in his past.

He said he had to be a sailor. He said he had to roam.
He did not want a family. He did not want a home.

I came back from the harbor. The truth at last I see.
I never really loved him, only who I hoped he'd be."

Isabelle repeated the melody instrumentally, then ended with, "I loved the man I hoped he'd be."

While she was singing, Doloris had come in to clear away the dishes. When she was finished, the housekeeper said, "That was beautiful, Miss Isabelle. I've never heard that song before."

The young woman laughed. "You couldn't have. I just made it up a couple days ago."

Cogmeyer smiled at his sister. "Izzy's made up quite a few songs. I'd say this is one of her best."

"You say that about all of them, Ozzy."

Doloris continued piling the dishes on her cart. "Your brother is right. That's a very good song. Anyone who can write songs like that shouldn't settle for being a housekeeper."

Isabelle shook her head. "Naw, don't want to do that. Like I told Ozzy, musicians got to do too much traveling."

"No, Miss Isabelle, I meant you should earn a living writing songs, not playing them."

Isabelle gave Doloris the puzzled look she always gave old people when they said something that made no sense to her. "Nobody's going to give me any money for a song if I don't play it. Why'd you think they'd do that?"

Doloris explained, "Other musicians would pay you so they could play your songs. They'd buy the music."

Isabelle looked even more confused. "You can't sell music. Once people hear it, it's in their heads. That's like saying you could sell thoughts or memories." She turned to her brother, hoping he could tell her what his housekeeper was talking about.

Cogmeyer said, "They did try that, Izzy. They had copyrights and patents and trademarks and I don't remember what else. Of course, none of that worked out very well and they abolished all of it a long time ago. At least, that's what I've heard. Doloris must remember when they actually had such things."

"It's true. In those days, those days a songwriter, or an inventor, could become very rich. They could charge for their songs or their inventions and control what other people did with them." She gave the cart a shove, starting it on its way back to the kitchen. "Sometimes, I forget the world's not like that any more."

Isabelle sat down and started adjusting the tuners on her mandolin, plucking the strings to hear the affect. When Doloris was gone, she said, "I'm sure glad I didn't live back then. I wouldn't want anybody telling me what I can think."

Cogmeyer nodded. "You're right, Izzy. Sometimes it's easy to forget how much better we have things now."

---

Late that night, Cogmeyer was lying in his bed, trying to sleep, but he kept thinking about how to win the antique dealers' prize. Dozens of ideas churned in this head, but none of them would pass the molecular scanner test. Once a dish was cracked, any attempt to fix it had to leave some trace a scanner would detect.

The old clock that stood on his dresser was ticking noisily. Cogmeyer listened to the steady, monotonous ticks, hoping that would help him get to sleep. The sound changed, getting more distant, but echoing oddly. He tried to follow the sound and found himself walking down a hallway, a gray, barren hallway.

He looked down. He was wearing a coverall, the same gray as the walls around him. He looked in the doors as he walked past. He could see small gray cells where people slept on small gray cots. He could see dining halls where people sat at long gray tables, eating from gray bowls, the same gray, tasteless paste every meal, every day. He was in a need house.

The Normerican government considered need houses the perfect answer to poverty. Too many people living too long in a world with too few jobs had eventually overwhelmed the bureaucracy that once distributed money to those it felt deserved it. In its place, the need houses appeared, providing the essentials of life to anyone who asked. No one had to prove their need. What the need houses provided was so unappealing that only those who really needed it would ask for it.

The ticking was getting louder. The hallway finally ended and Cogmeyer entered a large room. It was gray, like every other room in the need house, but the far wall was filled with clocks. As he got closer, he saw each clock had been made from a plate. Each plate had a hole drilled in the center so the hands could be attached to a little plastic box behind it that contained the clock mechanism. The hours were marked with little plastic numbers glued to the face of each plate. Someone had turned priceless antique plates into a bunch of tacky clocks.

There was something wrong with one of the clocks. Cogmeyer could not tell what it was. He tried to look at it, but he could not seem to focus on it. He kept trying and finally he knew what it was. The numbers had been put on backward, counterclockwise. The hands went around like any other clock, but as they did, they moved not to the following hour, but the preceding one, marking the passage of time in reverse.

Cogmeyer woke with a start and grabbed the notepad he always kept next to his bed. He had the solution to his problem.

---

The workshop was as cluttered as Cogmeyer's living quarters, although the type of clutter was entirely different. Tools, bins of spare parts and assorted devices with their innards exposed and reconfigured for purposes their original makers never intended were arranged around the room in a way that made sense to no one but Cogmeyer himself.

In the center of the room was an aluminum cabinet, about seven feet high and four feet across. Arrays of coiled copper tubes stuck out from three sides, while a latched door nearly filled the fourth side. On top, three brass prongs held a large glowing blue crystal. Several heavy black cables ran from sockets near the base of the cabinet to a makeshift control panel set up on an old wooden table. Isabelle was sitting behind the table, staring at the number on a small screen while Cogmeyer stood next to her, adjusting various knobs and levers.

"It just went past three, Ozzy." Isabelle announced.

"How much past?"

"Three point oh six, no, oh eight. It's still going up."

"Just keep calling it out, Izzy."

"Point one oh, one two, one three, one four, one five. It's stopped at three point one five."

"Good, that's where we want it."

Cogmeyer smiled. It was rather convenient having his sister around to help him. He could have rigged a gadget together to monitor that reading for him, but it would have taken him an hour or two to do it. Unfortunately for people like Isabelle, corporations saw spending a couple of hours to eliminate an employee as a good investment.

Isabelle looked at the odd cabinet and asked, "Isn't that kind of big to just put a dish in?"

Cogmeyer grinned. "Yeah, but it's easier working when it's this size. More room for my not so nimble fingers."

Isabelle giggled and Cogmeyer continued, "Actually, I built it for another challenge a few years ago. Some historical society was offering a big prize if someone found a way to go back in time. Basically, it's a time machine."

Isabelle asked. "Did it win the prize?"

Cogmeyer took one of the plates he had bought out of the box and cleared a place for it on his workbench. "No, to win the prize someone would have to appear at a meeting the committee had held a month before they announced the prize."

Isabelle twisted her eyebrows. "But if you've got a time machine, couldn't you use it to go back to that meeting?"

Cogmeyer grabbed a hammer that was hanging on the wall. "That's what I thought until I realized what it really means for something to go back in time."

He could see his sister was confused, so he explained, "Everything in the world can be in a number of different states." He pointed to the plate on his workbench. "This plate is in the state of being a whole, round object. You and I are in the state of seeing it that way."

Isabelle nodded tentatively. "I think I kind of get that."

Cogmeyer tapped the plate with the hammer and it cracked into several pieces. He held one up and said, "Now, the plate is in the state of being broken. You and I are in the state of seeing it is broken, but remembering it once was whole. Time is nothing more than the sequence that the laws of physics say those states must be in."

Isabelle hesitated, then said, "Like the whole state has to be before the broken one, because you can't make a broken plate whole by hitting it with a hammer?"

"Exactly, that's the law of entropy, which happens to be the other big problem I had with the time machine." Cogmeyer placed the broken plate pieces on a metal tray. "Anyway, as I was saying, making something go back in time is a matter of putting it in the same state it was earlier in that sequence."

"Which wouldn't be any good for going to a meeting that's already over."

Cogmeyer set the tray with the broken plate pieces in his machine and latched the door shut. "No, not in any practical sense. Strictly speaking, you could do it if you made the whole world, except you, go back to that time. That'd get the result they want, but I can't imagine any technology that could affect the whole world. Even if we had that, the legal hassles of doing it would be a nightmare."

Isabelle laughed. "But you made's exactly the kind of time machine that could fix broken dishes."

"Right. Now let's see if I've got that entropy problem fixed."

His sister scrunched up her face thoughtfully. "What exactly is the entropy problem?"

Cogmeyer looked over the control panel, making slight adjustments to a few of the knobs. "One of the laws of physics is that the total amount of entropy is always increasing. Things become less orderly, more random, like the whole dish becoming broken."

"That's not always true. You can straighten out something that's messy or fix something that's broken."

Cogmeyer nodded. "Yes, that's true. It's possible to decrease the entropy in a limited area, but if you consider everything involved, you'll find there's always an even greater increase in entropy somewhere else that compensates for it. Generally, it's useful energy being turned into waste heat."

"You mean like what Gramma says about being willing to sweat a little if you want to get anything done?"

Cogmeyer chuckled, "Yes, sort of like that. The problem I had with the time machine was that it would overheat every time I tried it. I'm hoping all those cooling tubes I've added will take care of that." He pointed to the screen she had been watching earlier. "Keep a close eye on that, Izzy. If the reading varies at all, tell me immediately."

Isabelle focused her attention on the number the screen was displaying. "I will, Ozzy."

Except for the information displayed on the control panel, there was no indication outside that anything was happening inside the cabinet. Small lights went on and off, needles on gauges swung from one position to another and green flickering screens displayed columns of numbers or complex graphs. They would be meaningless to anyone besides Cogmeyer, but they told him exactly what the time machine was doing. His concentration was too intense to allow him to smile, but he was very pleased by what he saw.

This continued for several minutes, then Cogmeyer flipped one final switch and said, "Alright, Izzy, let's see how it turned out."

They both walked around the control panel and Cogmeyer opened the door of the cabinet so they could look inside. On the metal tray was the plate, back in one piece again. Cogmeyer took the plate out and rubbed the surface with his fingers. It was perfectly smooth. There was not even the slightest evidence it had ever been broken. He handed the plate to his sister so she could examine it as well.

Isabelle gushed, "It's good as new!"

Cogmeyer grinned, "At least, as good as it was a few minutes ago. If that was an antique, it wouldn't be worth much if we actually made it new again."

"But, you could? I mean you can make something go back more than just a couple minutes?"

"Certainly, as long as we don't send it to a time before it was made. The machine wouldn't be able to trace the pattern back if we did." Cogmeyer rubbed his chin as he looked around the room for a suitable item. "How about using that old dish Doloris dropped?"

---

The procedure for the second dish was the same as the first. When Cogmeyer took the bowl out of the cabinet, not only was it unbroken, but it was white again with a bright blue stripe and all of the tiny nicks and scratches it had accumulated over the years were gone.

He handed the bowl to Isabelle. "Why don't you show that to Doloris. I think she still feels bad about breaking it."

Isabelle asked, "Where is she?"

"She must be in the kitchen now, fixing supper." He tilted his head back and sniffed. "Yeah, I can smell whatever she's cooking."

As she headed out of the workshop, Isabelle said, "It smells really good. You know what she's making?"

"No, but it smells like she's grilling some kind of meat."

It seemed odd to Cogmeyer that Doloris would be cooking meat. His housekeeper usually kept a close watch on the food bills and meat was a treat reserved for special occasions. Getting his invention to work was certainly a worthy event, but Doloris could not have known this was the day he would succeed. He was still wondering about this when he heard his sister scream.

As he rushed into the kitchen, Cogmeyer was relieved to see nothing had harmed Isabelle. She was standing there, shaken by what she saw, but safe. The bowl was lying on the floor where she had dropped it. It was sturdy again and showed no damage from the fall.

He stared at the bowl for several moments, not wanting to see the sight that had disturbed his sister so much. Finally, he forced himself to look. He saw his housekeeper slumped over the stove. It was her flesh they had smelt cooking. He moved next to his sister, clasping her shoulder with one hand and holding her shaking hands with the other.

Isabelle's voice trembled as she asked, "What do we do?"

"Call the medics, I suppose, but there isn't anything they can do for her now. She's been on there too long."

After a few minutes, Cogmeyer built up the courage to go over to the stove and turn it off. The look of agony on his housekeeper's face was dreadful. She must have collapsed on the stove and laid there too weak to do anything as it slowly cooked her to death. He wished he had been there when it happened. If he could not saved her life, at least he could have kept her from suffering.

Suddenly, Cogmeyer realised there was something he could do for Doloris. He called out, "Izzy, get the handcart. It's over near the door."

Isabelle hurried over for the cart, but asked, "You're going shopping now?"

Cogmeyer shook his head. "No, we need to get Doloris to the workshop. If we can fix a broken plate, I don't see why we can't undo what happened to her."

---

After they managed to get Doloris into the time machine, the inventor and his sister took their places at the control panel.

Isabelle asked, "She won't remember any of that?"

"No, she'll only have the memories she had at the time we send her back to."

"Good. Then she won't have to know about it at all."

Cogmeyer adjusted several knobs. "Let's just hope this works alright."

Isabelle looked uncertainly at her brother. "Why wouldn't it? Like you said, it worked with the dishes."

"People are a lot more complex than dishes, Izzy. At the level of quantum particles, the time machine can only make something approximately the same as it was before. The differences wouldn't be something you could see or even detect with a molecular scanner, but in a human being, they might be significant. We just don't know enough to be sure."

"We've got to try, Ozzy. At least, then there's a chance she'll be alright."

Cogmeyer agreed, "Yes, I don't suppose we can't make things any worse."

According to what Cogmeyer saw on the control panel, the procedure worked perfectly, but he felt a little shaky as he went to open the door. When he did, Doloris was standing inside, looking around in confusion.

"Mr. Cogmeyer? What am I doing here? I was in the kitchen, getting ready to make supper and then...I don't know what happened."

Cogmeyer stammered, "You...passed out. I used this machine to...revive you." It might be lying by omission, but he agreed with his sister. There was no need to tell Doloris the gruesome parts.

His housekeeper stepped out of the cabinet, holding on to the edge of the doorway to steady herself. "Thank you, Mr. Cogmeyer. I ought to get back to work." She started to sway when she left go of the cabinet and called, "I don't feel right."

Cogmeyer rushed to catch her as she collapsed. "Call the medics!"

He gently lowered Doloris to the floor. Her breaths were shallow and there was a dazed, vacant look on her face.

Isabelle came over and knelt beside her brother. "They'll be here in a couple minutes." She looked at the old woman. "What went wrong? Did the time machine do this to her?"

"No, it worked fine. Like I said, people aren't like plates. They don't just get broken from the outside. They wear out from the inside. Even though I took her back to before it happened, the condition that made her collapse the first time was still there."

"Then you should have made her younger. Like you did with the old bowl."

Cogmeyer looked into his sister's eyes. "She'd lose her memories of all those years. It'd be like wiping out her life, Izzy. I couldn't do that."

---

The medics came, took care of Doloris and left. With modern medical equipment, there were few problems that could not be treated where they occurred. They did not need to take her any farther than her own bedroom.

Even though it was in his house, Cogmeyer had not been in his housekeeper's room since he hired her. He sensed she valued her privacy and he hated to intrude, but he had to see how she was doing. When he came in, Doloris was sitting up in bed, reading.

She looked at Cogmeyer, then lowered her eyes. "I won't be able to make supper tonight, Mr. Cogmeyer. The medics say I must rest. Tomorrow, I'll..."

Cogmeyer interrupted her, "Don't worry about it, Doloris. Rest as long as you need to. What else did the medics say?"

Doloris make a movement that might have been a shrug. "I'll survive, Mr. Cogmeyer. I'll be a little weaker, a little slower, but I'll survive."

Cogmeyer glanced around the room. It was sparsely furnished compared to the rest of his house, just the bed, a dresser and a wooden rocking chair. A vase of flowers and a couple framed photographs on the dresser were the only decorative items in the room. He said quickly, "I'll be going...so you can rest."

As he turned to leave, Doloris asked, "Is it true, what you and Miss Isabelle were talking about?" He looked back at her with his mouth open and she said, "I heard what you said, all of it."

"About the time machine?"

"Yes. Could you really make me young again?"

Cogmeyer rubbed his forehead. "Well, I could, but like I told Izzy, you'd lose all your memories."

"Would you do it? Please, Mr. Cogmeyer."

"But..."

Doloris looked at him with an intensity that surprised Cogmeyer. "I understand what I will be giving up, but you do not understand what I will be gaining. No one your age could."

"You're certain that's what you want?"

"Yes, I am. You will not be wiping out my life, Mr. Cogmeyer. The time I spent with Jim, my children, my grandchildren, all that has happened will not change even if I can no longer remember it. Just as it will not change after I die. But, I want another chance, a chance to do what I chose not to do so long ago."

Cogmeyer was quite certain it was a choice he would never make himself, but he felt he had no right to deny Doloris that choice if it was what she really wanted. "We'll do it first thing tomorrow morning."

---

The time machine was ready when Doloris came into the next day. Cogmeyer was standing next to Isabelle behind the control panel, doing some last minute checks. He wanted to ask Doloris to reconsider once more, but her determined look told him she was not going to change her mind.

Doloris came and stood in front of the control panel. The walk was tiring her, but soon that would not matter. She held a sealed envelope out for Cogmeyer to take. "Give this back to me after this is done."

Cogmeyer took the envelope and said, "Of course."

The old woman looked hard at the young inventor. "What is inside is very personal, Mr. Cogmeyer. If this does not work, if I do not make it for some reason, you must destroy the envelope. Unopened!"

Cogmeyer felt like he was holding her whole life in his hand. "You're the only one who will ever see it, Doloris. I promise."

Without another word, Doloris walked slowly over to the time machine and stepped in. Cogmeyer shut the door and returned to the control panel.

Isabelle looked at him and asked, "Nervous, Ozzy?"

Cogmeyer nodded. "It's one thing to put dishes, or even a dead body in there. It's something else to try it with a living person."

He turned the knobs that started the process. A few moments later, he groaned, "No."

Without taking her eyes off her one small screen, Isabelle asked, "What's wrong?"

"There was a pattern loss. Relatively small, but I'm not sure what it'll do to her."

"Can't you get it back?"

Cogmeyer answered, "No once it's lost. I don't have any way to pick it out from the temporal background noise. All we can do is hope she'll be alright."

There were no more problems and after Cogmeyer shut the time machine down, he went over and unlatched the door.

"You better let me look first, Izzy."

Cogmeyer opened the door and gasped. Isabelle cried out, "What happened?"

Doloris was standing inside the time machine, young, healthy and very confused. She was also very naked. She was wearing nothing but a small sliver cross hanging from a chain around her neck.

Cogmeyer was surprised by how attractive she was, thin but shapely with long, blond hair. He kept staring at her until her scream brought him to his senses and he looked away.

"Get away! What're you doing to me?"

Blushing vividly, Cogmeyer said, "Izzy, get my coat, the long one, from the hall closet. Hurry!"

As Isabelle went for the coat, Cogmeyer tried to calm the young woman who was now cowering in one corner of the time machine. "I'm sorry, Doloris. I should've realized the clothes you were wearing wouldn't have existed when you were this age. Of course, I don't know where we could've found anything that old for you to wear when you went in."

Doloris screeched at him, "How do you know who I am and what on earth are you talking about?"

Keeping his head turned, Cogmeyer explained, "You're my housekeeper. At least, you were when you were much older."

Doloris repeated, "When I was older?"

"Yes. You see, that's a time machine you're in and I used it to send you back in time."

"So, I'm in the past?"

"Your past, yes. I made you younger, but of course you don't remember that because you only remember what you knew when you were that young the first time. I suppose that would make this seem like the future to you."

Cogmeyer was relieved when his sister returned with the coat. He pointed to the time machine and Isabelle had to suppress an embarrassed giggle when she saw Doloris inside without any clothes on.

Doloris put on the coat and came out of the time machine. Cogmeyer approached her and she backed away, looking for a way out of the room.

Cogmeyer remembered the envelope Doloris had given him, so he picked it up and held it out in her direction. "Maybe it'll help if you read this."

She asked, "A letter?"

"From yourself, your older self."

Doloris came just closed enough to grab the envelope, then backed away again and ripped it open with her finger. She pulled out two sheets of paper. Cogmeyer and Isabelle could not see what was written on them, but they could see the change that came over Doloris as she read them. The fear and confusion disappeared from her face. In their place was an unusual calmness, a look of wisdom that seemed strange on someone so young.

When she was finished, she folded the papers and put them back in the torn envelope. "Thank you, Mr. Cogmeyer. Thank you for everything."

"I wish I could've done it without taking away your memories."

"Perhaps someday you will invent a way to give someone both youth and memories. Or maybe we must always give up one to gain the other. I should be going now."

Cogmeyer offered, "You could stay here for a while, until you get your new career started."

Doloris shook her head. "No, that's very kind, but I don't belong here any more." She started to leave, then realized she had no idea which way to go.

Isabelle noticed her uncertainty and said, "I can show you where your room is, Doloris."

"Thank you. And you are?"

Isabelle felt a little hurt that Doloris had apparently included her brother in the letter, but not her. "I'm Izzy...Isabelle...his sister."

"Yes, Izzy. Please, show me the way."

---

When the two women had left the workshop, Cogmeyer went over to his desk and used his netpad to look up what awards were available. It was important to find the biggest prize he could before he presented an invention. There were people who made their living finding overlooked awards and claiming them with other people's inventions. The award committees only cared who presented the inventions to them first. To Cogmeyer, that was the only sensible way to do it. Even the most original invention used ideas developed by countless other people. If every inventor had to untangle all of them, only big corporations would have enough money to do it.

As he had guessed, the prizes for making old people young or dead people alive made the one NADA was offering to mend dishes seem insignificant. If he showed his invention to the antique dealers first, someone else would very likely use his time machine to get those other awards before him. Whoever claimed them would become very rich and very famous. He was not sure that was something he really wanted.

Cogmeyer was still mulling about this when Isabelle returned. "Since Doloris is leaving, can I be your housekeeper, Ozzy?"

"That's what you want?"

"Yeah. I've missed you since you got your own place and I'm sure Gramma won't mind being alone with her boyfriend."

Doloris had accused his sister of wasting her talent and their mother would definitely agree with that. As Cogmeyer saw it, everyone had the right to decide what was best for them.

"Alright, Izzy, you can do the housekeeping." Then he added, "But would you help me with my inventions sometimes, too?"

"Sure, I'd like that."

"Great. Now, I've got to let Mr. Krahn know we're ready to show the antique dealers the best dish fixer they're ever going to see."
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