Aldi sits inside her sphere, eating a sandwich. She thinks about Marcus, sitting at home on his day off, probably watching a movie.
Outside the sphere, the city vibrates with action. As people blur past her, Aldi sets the sandwich down, turns a few knobs, and the people outside click into a normal pace. She returns to her sandwich.
She’s not supposed to eat on the clock. In the manual, it specifically says, “Set Sphere to “Idle” when taking breaks.” But Aldi forgot her book today, and with nothing else to look at, she might as well get some work done while eating.
According to the sphere’s chronometer, it’s sometime between 2044 and 2056. When it comes to time observation, these things are never as accurate as you think they’d be. Aldi eyes the passersby closely, paying attention to their fashion and the technology they wear.
Aldi writes down a few notes in a small journal, then pulls out a massive book. She flips through it for a few minutes before finding what she’s looking for, a pair of headphones she spotted on a passerby. They were released in 2052.
A couple minutes later she sees a boy wearing special edition sneakers she recognizes from the 2054 Olympics. That puts her sometime between 2054 and 2056. Close enough. She writes it down in her notes.
Aldi leans back in her chair and the sphere rotates to better accommodate her comfort. Her job is to sit and watch. It doesn’t matter when she lands, so much, as long as it’s a time she hasn’t been before. The sphere is invisible to those in the present she’s observing. It’s only visible in her current time, where it sits, aflame, in a city colored in the permanent sunset of a world on fire.
When humans figured out time travel, it felt like a monumental discovery, but we quickly learned it wasn’t as useful as we’d hoped. But it was profitable.
The first time machine is nearly identical to the Aldi’s sphere, only lacking the comforts and nice-to-haves of her machine. Like Aldi’s machine, the first machine was limited to space, but not time. So, it can move backwards and forwards through time, but cannot move even an inch to the left or right. If the traveler steps out of the machine, they, along with the machine, are instantly returned to their present. When the machine moves through time, it only moves the person inside’s observational abilities. Which is to say, nobody else can see the machine when it stops.
Because the machines were limited to observational space, the company who invented them, Astral Projects, sold millions. If you can only observe time through a small port hole in a single space, the best way to see all of time is to put time travel units all over the world. Unfortunately, when they’re moving the travelers through time, they burn a bright orange flame. As the units got more popular, the skies of the world turned orange, regardless of the time of day.
Aldi continues taking notes in her journal. Her job is to record what she sees, a historian of sorts, though it doesn’t come with the prestige we’d usually associate with that title. As the machines grew in popularity, Astral Projects realized they could profit both on tourism and data collection. The tourism was easy. There were only so many historical hot spots worth enough to justify the cost (and lines) of a specific location. For everywhere else, Astral Projects developed a system to tap contract workers to hop in a machine, record their findings, and get paid. “Work anytime,” Astra Projects, says, in the tagline for its program.
A man passes by arguing loudly with another man about a stock price. Aldi notes the stock, cross references it in her book with The Crash, and puts a checkmark next the name. A group of teens talks about a band Aldi hasn’t heard of and doesn’t appear in her books. She writes down as much as she can before they pass, noting their excitement and their description of the sound, “celestial hardcore noise wave.” She pulls out her personal notebook and writes down the band name there too.
A timer buzzes inside the sphere and Aldi stops taking notes. It’s time to go back. She flips a few switches, turns a knob, and presses the Return button on her keyboard. Thankfully, the return trip is more accurate than the initial launch backwards.