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Time Management (near-future SF)

Written by Kit Campbell

 

“I demand a refund!” The man slammed his fist down on the counter that separated them.

 

“Did you fill out a form?” she asked, knowing even as she did that he had not; the irate ones never did.

“You expect me to fill out a damned form?” Spittle flew from his mouth.  “I don’t have time for this!  I want a refund!”

“Of course, sir.  Your name?”  She pulled open a new window on her computer.  She didn’t get customers like this terribly often, but she had learned that it helped to get them started on something as soon as possible so they felt like they were getting somewhere.

“George Wilkinson.”

“And how much would you like refunded today, Mr. Wilkinson?”

He squared his shoulders, looking her straight in the eye. “Back to the beginning of the year.”

Someone in the line behind him sucked in her breath.

She folded her hands on the counter.  “That’s a very extensive request, Mr. Wilkinson.  The year’s mostly over.”

He set his jaw.  “Look, I read the fine print.  I know there’s a statute of limitations on the amount of crap a person can receive in a certain amount of time.  I have passed that – and I want my year back.”

She typed a few things into her form, mostly to stall.  “What has happened for you to claim that?”

“I made a list.”  He fished it out of a pocket, carefully unwadding it.  “On January 3rd, my dog was hit by a car and killed in front of my four-year-old.  On January 18th, my neighbor backed into my mailbox and destroyed it.  He didn’t offer to fix it.  On January 31st, my roof began to leak and warped my floor.”  He paused to push his glasses up his nose.  “On February 12th, my house was broken into and several valuables stolen.  On February 15th, my seven-year-old broke his arm.  On March 1st, I was framed by a co-worker for embezzlement and fired.  On March 19th, I lost three toes on my left foot in a freak alpaca stampede.  On April 2nd, my car caught fire for no apparent reason, and on April 8th, my wife was killed during – “

“I think you may qualify,” she said.  He blinked at her and slid his list back into his pocket.  “Let me just get some information and then I will need you to fill out this form,” she pulled out a neon pink one – the color was supposed to act as a deterrent as much as a marker of import, “with a complete list of events.  And I must warn you that if it goes through, you can only have this specific time refunded once.  If you choose to have a reset and the year goes the same or worse, there is nothing that can be done.”

“But how would I know?”

“You may not remember, Mr. Wilkinson, but we will.”  She patted her computer for emphasis.  “Now, will you be requesting a credit to be applied at the end of your life, or a reset to the beginning of the year?”

“A reset.”

She tapped the paper in front of him.  “Then I will also need a list of people directly related so we can approach them to see if they consent to be reset as well.  You may consent for your children, if you wish.  We will contact your wife directly.”

“But she’s…”

“I will also need your temporal ID number.”

He took out his wallet and handed across his ID card.  That wasn’t a surprise; most people couldn’t be bothered to memorize the twenty-digit number.

“Have you ever had a claim with this office before?”

“Just once.”  He took the card back and returned his wallet to its place.  “I was seven and the dog had eaten my homework.”

A minor infraction – it probably wouldn’t hurt his case, but it was hard to know with a reset request of such magnitude.  “Thank you, Mr. Wilkinson.  Go ahead and fill out the form.  You can drop it back off with me when you’re done.  It will take a few weeks for your case to be reviewed, and we will contact you when a resolution has been reached.  Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

“No, thank you.”  He picked the neon form up, looking at its tiny print forlornly.

“Thank you for visiting the Bureau of Time Management.  Next?”

An older woman shuffled forward.  “I was hoping to get a reset to my youth.”

She pointed to a sign on the wall behind her that read “EACH PERSON GETS ONE LIFE – the Bureau is not responsible for your regrets.”  “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”

The woman peered at the sign for a moment before sighing.  “Worth a try,” she murmured as she moved off.

“Next!” she called.

A young man, probably not yet out of college, came up, twisting his hands.  “I was just hoping to get my time back for this horrid movie I watched.”

“Certainly,” she said.  “Credit or reset?”

 

© 2011 Kit Campbell