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Day Twenty-one: Delay

“I’m sorry, sir. Your quantum signature is a little unusual. You could step through the scanner again?”

Lawrence rolled his eyes. “Every damn time,” he said. He stepped back through the archway, turned around and tried to stand with a pose that bespoke irritated indifference. It wasn’t easy.

“Okay, sir.” The energy field within the arch faded to a pale green. “You can come through again?”

He took three steps forward and held his breath as he passed through the familiar cold web of light. The energy field turned a pale pink.

The scanning officer approached him, holding a wand. “Over here, sir,” she said. In her other hand was a small tablet computer, at least two generations past new. The tail waved about as if it had a mind of its own, scanning and watching the crowd behind them. Which, for all he knew, it was. “Please hold out your primary manipulating appendages.”

“You mean my arms?”

“I try not to make assumptions, sir.” She flipped a switch on the wand and it started to hum. He felt an itch where it passed over him, and tried not to scratch. The whole process was done with the efficiency of someone who had practiced it on many a traveler, and in less than a minute the officer was consulting her pad. She tapped it in a few places.

The blue, smooth ridge above her left eye slowly rose upwards on her forehead. The tail whipped around to point at Lawrence. She looked up at him. “This reading is quite unusual, sir,” she said. Her voice had gone flat and quiet. “I may need to call my supervisor.”

Lawrence dropped his manipulating appendages and sighed. “Look, you don’t have to do that. Look at my passport, page two.” He gestured over to where his bag was and waggled his fingers. “Go, look.” The officer called out a string of hard syllables, and within moments a small flying drone zipped in, grasped the bag from the scanning table, and brought it over. “Front pouch,” Lawrence said. “Right… right there.”

The officer holstered the wand and flipped through the passport. When she opened to page two, the ridge about her other eye went up as well. The tail swung in over her shoulder for a look. She read the page twice, and then looked up at him. “Time traveler?” she asked.

“Retired,” Lawrence said. “I went back to do some work for Cerbecorp back in the late twenty-second. When I got back here, the whole trip had done something weird to my boson spin. Or something, I don’t follow the science. All I know is that I try not to slide because I have to go through this nonsense every single time.”

The officer nodded. The tail started waving above her head, and a moment later a creature which could only have been her supervisor arrived. It was big. It was very hairy. It had a badge. “Is there a problem?” it asked, with a voice that sounded like water flowing through crystal pipes. The officer handed the passport to the yeti, who glanced at it and said, “Time traveler. System can handle. Let him go.” It turned to Lawrence. “Enjoy your trip, sir,” it said.

Lawrence tried to thank the thing, but by the time he stammered the words out, it had gone. “That was new,” he said to the scanning officer.

“Really?”

“Yeah.” He turned back to the officer. “Last time I had to wait in the Little Room for about four hours while they got confirmation.”

The officer looked pained. Her violet eyes winced. “Oh, the Little Room? That is too bad indeed, sir.” She handed him his bag and passport. “Have a good trip, sir.”

Lawrence took his things, shoved the passport in his pocket, and shouldered the bag. Part one complete, and better than usual. No one at Cerbecorp had told him what mucking about in the past would do to him, and it was still nearly impossible to get a straight answer. Never mind the trip had netted them trillions. Never mind they now had always owned the patents to three of the most popular home utilities in modern history. That half-hearted lawyer had told him that their first and last obligation was to pay him for his work. They had done that, handsomely. Handsome or not, though, the money was limited. The aggravation was for a lifetime.

The departure lounge for the slide was sparsely populated, which was a good sign. Everything seemed to be working smoothly for once. He took his passport from his pocket, flipped it open to page two, and approached a departure desk. The receptionist there could have been a twin to the scanning officer, only more made up. Her pale blue skin was clearer and contrasted nicely with the wine-dark uniform. Lawrence still had a hard time getting the attractiveness of xenos, but he was beginning to see where it came from.

“Your passport, sir?” she asked. Same voice, too. He handed it to her and leaned on the counter. The tail curved up to look at him. “Could you step back, sir? We need to do a final scan.”

“But… they already scanned me,” he said. “Over there.”

“Yes, sir. We just need to do one more.”

“Oh, for the love of…” He dropped the bag and took one step back. A pale green circle lit up under his feet, glowed softly for a moment, and then turned pink. The receptionist tapped on her pad for a moment, checked page two again, and the circle winked out.

“Sorry for the delay, sir. To where will you be going?”

Lawrence picked up his bag. “I’m headed to Corsair City. The main port.”

She tapped on the pad again. “That will be no problem, sir. We have to route you through Elliel Exchange first.”

“Elliel?” He leaned on the counter again. “Where the hell is Elliel?”

“Could you step back please, sir?” she asked, not looking up at him. Reluctantly, he did. “Your quantum abnormalities require that we re-route you to Elliel Exchange before we can send you on to Corsair. Just a safety precaution.”

“Whose safety?” He had to fight to keep from shouting. “Whose safety am I risking?”

She looked up at him. “Yours certainly,” she said. “Your condition may make you a danger to yourself and others. If an… incident does occur, we would rather it be away from a populated area.”

“Away from…? Where is this place?”

“Asteroid 435 Ella,” she said, reading from the pad.

“As… An asteroid? You’re sending me to an asteroid?”

The tail swung up over her head. “Please keep your voice down, sir,” she said.

“I’m not keeping my voice down! You’re sending me to an airless hunk of rock in the middle of nowhere and you want me to keep my voice down? All I want to do is go to Corsair City, lady” He ran his hands through his hair. “It’s on the same damn continent!”

“Is there a problem?” The flowing-water voice again. Lawrence didn’t turn around – he knew what was behind him. The large, hairy paw that settled on his shoulder was a good warning against making sudden movements.

“No problem, sir,” Lawrence said through gritted teeth. “I was just asking why I have to go to the middle of the airless void on my way to a city three hundred miles away.”

The yeti lumbered over to the counter, and the blue receptionist showed it the pad. It read for a moment, then turned its surprisingly sharp orange eyes on Lawrence. “It’s so you don’t blow the city up. Sir.” It walked over to him, badge-first. “We can lose an asteroid. A city, not so much.” That paw landed on his other shoulder, staggering him. “You won’t be there. Just your energy signature. You’ll barely notice.”

“Right,” Lawrence said. “Barely notice. Gotcha.” The yeti lifted its paw from his shoulder, and Lawrence tried to give it a surreptitious rub. There was a strange, trilling conversation between the receptionist and her supervisor, and then the giant thing left. Lawrence tried what he thought was his best sheepish grin. “So. Am I good to go?” he asked.

She slid his passport and a destination chip across the counter. “Enjoy your travels,” she said.

“Enjoy. Right,” he muttered. He took the passport and the chip and walked to the nearest gate. The operator sat in a glass booth. Human, this time. Or near as made no difference. Lawrence put dropped the chip into the drawer, which slid closed. The operator took it out, inserted it into a console, and pushed a couple of buttons on his pad.

The gate hummed to life, a pale yellow field blurring out the space inside. Lawrence took a deep breath and hoped that the yeti-thing was right. Barely notice.

“This trip had better be worth it,” he said, and stepped into the field.

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