by J.B. Ezar
Discover a tiny shop full of technological wonders capable of changing one's life.
It was raining. The forecast said nothing about the rain, but as soon as Connie stepped outside, a cloud formed above the undomed part of the old town, and it started pouring. Her palmband vibrated, warning her about the change in the forecast.
"I have eyes, you dimwit!" Connie waved it away.
She reached into her pocket to find an umbrella. She remembered she had one, but her fingers kept finding loose pegs of AC, half of those out of energy. Finally, she singled out an unmistakable cone of a sonic umbrella clip. She fastened it on top of her head, and as soon as the first drop of water hit her hair, an invisible ultrasound dome sprung out and enclosed her head and shoulders in a thin protective barrier.
"That's better," Connie breathed out and looked at the road ahead of her.
She had to make a decision before she reached the Grand Hall where Mike was waiting with the final papers. It was her absolute deadline. She's either leaving him or leaving with him. Both alternatives scared her.
The sonic dome above her flickered, coughed one last pulse and disappeared. It was out of juice. Connie put her hands above her head in a desperate attempt to shield herself, and her palmband interpreted her gesture as a request and projected a screen that collapsed into her hair.
"Stupid thing," she muttered and looked around for shelter.
On her right, there was a door with a card that said Open. Two windows on both sides were decorated with coils of small painted light bulbs, and the sills hosted piles of bright pillows, handmade toys, paper books, and other knick-knacks. A sign above the door said Nova 21. Connie couldn't tell if it was a souvenir shop or a cafe, but the card promised it was open, and it had a roof. She snuck in.
Shelves and shelves of stuff covered every wall inside a small room. Some were electronics that belonged in the last century, the beginning of twenty-first at best. Was this an antique store? A counter spanned the wall opposite the front door, and an old glass refrigerator displayed various cakes and biscuits. Two tiny tables, each with a set of chairs stood in the corner by the window. A snack bar?
"Welcome," a mature woman with white hair greeted her from behind the counter. "May I offer you a cup of tea?"
She had a happy face: every fold of her skin smiled, competing with her pale grey eyes. She wore a leopard pattern scarf around her neck and a light woollen pullover.
"It's complementary," she added, "if you are here for the exhibition."
"What is this place?" Connie asked, looking around. "A museum?"
The woman laughed, "Just a family business." She turned around and flipped a switch on an electric kettle. It had a wired stove underneath, not an induction pad.
"I will make you a cup," she said. "And you can wait here with me for the rain cloud to pass. It's all right, I welcome any company. I'm Hannah. Please, take a seat."
"What's all this stuff?" Connie asked, trying to appear friendly.
"This place has a story..." Hannah brought up two glass cups and threw a bag of tea in each. "It was named after a futuristic expo show, Nova 21. It was held here in the city, in 2020, and was meant to gather the best engineers and inventors. An entrepreneur wanted to encourage people to dream of a better world, to imagine what the future would look like in fifty years. The participants were sponsored to work on anything they wanted for a year, and in 2021, they had to present their futuristic prototypes."
"2021?" Connie repeated. "None of this stuff looks like what we have now. I guess they failed in their dreams."
"The project was a failure, yes," Hannah nodded.
"Did they take the money and produced nothing?"
"They produced this," she sighed, gesturing at the shelves.
Connie gave the room another look. It all seemed like junk.
"My late wife inherited it from her father," Hanna explained. "He was the entrepreneur who paid for all this. In fact,"—her face slowly lost its cheer—"it was all she inherited. None of it was what he hoped it was. He went broke. So we opened this place instead. I was a baker, and Margaret adored her father, and in a way, she believed that one day these prototypes will be worth something." She paused to fiddle with her scarf. "We opened this place together, but now it's just me. Fifty-four years, now just a memory."
"Show me one of those prototypes," Connie asked before the woman sank in sad memories.
"All right," Hanna nodded with a reappearing smile. "Margaret was the one who knew every item, but I can show you something too."
She picked up a bulky long cylinder the size of a dinner knife with a pointy end.
"This," she said, presenting it to Connie, "is a... oh God, I forgot the name!"
"What does it do?" Connie turned it in her hands.
"It's a pen. It makes anyone a calligraphy expert. Or so was the intention."
Connie held it like a proper pen and tried a few writing movements in the air. It felt heavy as if something inside resisted her.
"Gyroscopes?" Connie guessed.
"Perhaps..." Hannah gestured at the poster above the counter where Connie only now noticed the menu for hot beverages. "I tried it once, and it did a decent job."
The letters were pleasing to the eye, but nothing too sophisticated, it could never compete with modern adaptive typography.
"Well, not bad for the twenty twenty-one," Connie agreed.
Hannah turned to another shelf and brought a baseball hat with a wired mesh on top. Tiny squares of electronics clung to it.
"What is this?" Connie touched the top of the hat.
"You wear it, and it glows green when you're in the zone."
"In the zone?"
She put it on Connie's head. "When you concentrate hard on a task, your brain waves change, and the hat detects it, and the LEDs light up."
The kettle clicked, informing Hannah of its readiness. She went back behind the counter to fill the teacups with hot water.
"Why would anyone want this?" Connie asked, trying to concentrate.
"Oh, it's very useful in an open space office," Hannah told her, tending to the tea. "You should never disturb anyone who is in the zone."
Connie took the hat off. "Is there anything truly futuristic here?"
"There's a time machine," Hannah announced with two cups in her hands.
"A time machine?"
"Yes," she nodded. "It was somewhere here."
She placed the cups on the table and hurried to the other window to raid a shelf there. When she came back, she had a bracelet in her hands.
"Is this it?" Connie was sceptical.
"It is. I think it still has a charge for one trip. Do you want to try it?"
"Does it really work?"
"I've tried it once. Margaret showed me. I assure you, it's real."
"How far would I go?"
"Anywhere from thirty seconds to twenty minutes," she said and then added, "into the future."
"Who would want to travel twenty minutes into the future?" Connie asked but allowed her to put the bracelet on her hand. Hanna pushed a hidden button, and it tightened around her wrist and started glowing in a slow pulsing rhythm.
"It has to prepare," Hannah explained. "Give it some time."
Connie watched the slow dance of animation on the screen surface. A fume of pale colours snaked on the dark curved facet, adjusting to her heart rate. Greenish pearl and eggshell white, barely noticeable pink and lavender at first, it slowly saturated with each pulse. It did nothing more than that, and after watching it for a while, Connie lost interest.
"Do you have something practical here?" she asked, looking at the big mechanical clock above the door. It showed a quarter to five. "Something you'd actually use?"
"There are Margaret's glasses," Hannah remembered. "She wore them every time she had to face a tough decision and wasn't sure."
She stood up and disappeared behind the counter, inside another room Connie wasn't aware of. The rain was still drumming on the window. When Hannah returned, she had a small leather box in her hands. She took her seat and slowly opened the box, lifting a laced handkerchief that covered a pair of glasses.
"It's a pity she got them after she finished her education," Hannah said, wiping the heavy dark frame. "It would have helped her enormously during the exams."
"What does it do?"
"It warns you when you're about to make a mistake."
"How so?" Connie took it to look closer.
"It has a camera, and it monitors the size of your pupils. Your unconscious mind knows the right answer better than your conscious mind, and it can be seen in an involuntary pupil reaction. In a simple experiment, where participants had to solve mathematical problems, it was found that their pupils reacted before they gave a wrong answer. So these glasses flash a sign when they detect this reaction. This way, your conscious mind is informed of a mistake so you can correct it."
"Can I try it on?"
Connie put the glasses on, and the balance of her face shifted, the heavy frame pulling her nose down. "What do I do?"
Hanna shrugged. "Do you want to solve math problems?"
"Not really," Connie said. "What about those tough decisions, how do you consult this thing?"
"Think of a solution and phrase it as a statement. If your unconscious mind disagrees, you'll see a red flash before your eyes. Impossible to miss."
Connie eyed the refrigerator. "Do I want cake?" she murmured. "I think I want cake." The glasses did nothing. "Is it working?"
"I think so..."
"This is stupid." Connie suddenly regretted she wasted so much time on toys. Outside, the rain was slowing down. "I should be going." A world behind her eyes flashed red just for a second. "Wow, it works!"
Of course, she wanted to stay. Hannah's exhibition was entertaining, and the longer she stayed here, the further she could postpone her trip to the Grand Hall. She could postpone Mike.
If there was one decision she could use all the help she could get, it was Mike.
"I should marry Mike," Connie said under her breath, and the glasses flashed red.
A sigh of relief escaped her. Of course, she doesn't want to marry Mike. They were great together once, but now... Just because he's leaving the country, it doesn't mean she has to throw her life away and follow him.
The bracelet she forgot she was wearing vibrated, reminding her about its presence. Connie looked at it in surprise. Clouds of red and violet pulsed rapidly on its surface. She felt how tightly it gripped her wrist. The bracelet shook in strained anticipation, building up to something. And then, without warning, it released a violent burst of hidden energy, bending her arm in an uncontrollable powerful spasm. A lightning bolt of painless shock ran through her body, rushing to her temples, painting everything electric white.
Connie was suddenly aware of her heart racing in her chest. Her neck was sore, and when she looked up, she saw Hannah's frightened face before her.
"Are you all right?" Hannah asked. "Did it hurt you?"
Her question made no sense. A moment ago, Connie was watching pale colours dance on the surface of the bracelet Hannah claimed to be a time machine. Its screen was now blank, her wrist around it sore and reddened. She unclasped the bracelet and threw it on the table. Her heart still rocked her whole body. Something didn't feel right. A moment ago, she looked at the clock above the door, noticing it was a quarter to five, leaving her forty-five minutes to reach the Grand Hall. Now, this same clock showed five o'clock. Outside, the rain has stopped. It was loud on the window just a moment ago, and now the sky appeared clear.
"Did it work? Did I just jump in time?"
"Don't you remember?" Hannah asked, and her voice shook. “What is the last thing you remember?”
“What does my memory have to do with it? You gave me the bracelet a minute ago." Connie reached to touch the cup Hannah just brought them, the tea was lukewarm. "Did this thing just propel me fifteen minutes into the future?"
"Oh dear," Hannah sighed, and her face changed. If Connie had to name the expression, it was a disappointment. "It feels like a chunk of time is missing, doesn’t it?"
Connie produced her palmband to check the time, not trusting the old thing on the wall. As she opened her palm, the rubber band that ran across it did not react. No screen projection appeared above it. She shook her palm, rebooting it, but it was still just a dead accessory on her hand.
"It's fried," Hannah said, reaching for Connie's face to take off the glasses. Connie could not tell how it got there. "With a charge like that, that damn thing wiped out all memory..." She tapped on the frame as if trying to shake some electronics into responding. "I'm sorry, Margaret," she murmured. "You warned me to take off all electronics, but I forgot... Oh, Margaret, why haven't you told me how this thing really worked..."
"Did I really travel in time?" Connie repeated her question, demanding attention.
Hannah shook her head in an uncertain gesture, "Magic, right? And the magicians never reveal their secrets."
Connie wasn't sure she even liked magic. She looked at the clock again. The hands were slowly moving forward.
"I need to go," she remembered. "I need to be somewhere. And the rain has stopped."
"Sure," Hannah agreed, pressing the heavy-framed glasses to her chest. "Good luck."
"Thank you..." Connie stood up in a hurry, but then considered something and added, "You know, it's actually my wedding day today." For a moment, probably because she stood up too fast, she saw blood flash before her eyes, but it disappeared as quickly as it appeared.
"Oh really? Congratulations. May your married life be as happy as mine and Margaret's was."
"Thank you," Connie nodded. "I'm sure it will be."