by Jake Christie

FINDING THE TIME TO READ.
a story.

She closed the book and placed it on the table. It took her a long moment before she could raise her hand from the cover. It was as if the dusty tome was magnetic, and she felt the pull in her fingertips until she finally broke free, turned, and walked through the door. The same feeling cascaded over her body as when she had entered; a thousand tiny little sparks, warming and tickling her skin with a soft blue glow. The sensation made her shiver and close her eyes, and when she opened them she was back in the too-white room with her boyfriend and the lab technician. They stared at her. She squinted.

“Well?” asked her boyfriend. This trip had been his idea, an early birthday present. “How was it?”

She turned and looked at the door, which stood in the middle of the room, looking like an upturned letter “U.” Waves of something-or-other – energy, time, matter, anti-matter – undulated in the portal, casting a pale blue glow on the floor. She could see through the waves to the other side of the lab. The room she had just been in wasn't there any more.

“It was good,” she said. She paused and added, “Weird. But good.” And then she nodded.

Her boyfriend's face drooped; this was not the answer he had been expecting. He looked at the lab technician, who shrugged his shoulders and moved some icons on his data screen with the wave of a hand. “Weird?” asked her boyfriend. “What does that mean, 'weird?'”

She crossed to him in two quick strides and put her hands on his face, as if to keep it from drooping off completely. “No, nothing bad, just...” She searched for a word. “Different.”

“I thought you loved to read,” he said. He blinked twice and had to look away. “I thought this would be special. I mean, I thought you'd heard of 'books'...”

“Of course,” she said, and she wasn't lying. The idea of books fascinated her, and she'd spent hours at her computer at work or on her datapad, looking at archival photographs. “Of course I have. But I just wasn't expecting...” She trailed off. Again, she searched for the right words. “No screen, no backlighting, no UI, no apps. I'd never seen anything like it before.” She moved her hands gingerly, to see where his face would fall. She ran her fingers into his hair behind his ears. “It was beautiful.”

He was able to find her eyes again, and he made something that looked like a smile. “Really?” he asked.

“Really,” she said. “I didn't want to leave.” This was the truth, too.

Her boyfriend looked at the lab technician. He had unbuttoned his white coat and turned off the door; now it just looked like a strangely-bent piece of metal, like some kind of alphanumeric monument in the middle of the room. He put down his data screen, saw her boyfriend's look, and shook his head.

She frowned. It had been magical – that's the only word for it, because it certainly didn't seem scientific. The feel of paper pages in her fingers, the smell of collected dust, the unflinchingly static placement of the words, everything just so – immovable, unselectable. It was already fading like a dream or a distant memory, or some other thing that didn't exist anymore. “Thank you,” she told her boyfriend.

He sighed. It had been a wonderful surprise, but now it was over. Time travel, like every other gadget, was just too expensive.



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