Harvey delayed joining the rest of the University of Omaha time travel research team at the mall until he could be sure he wouldn’t bump into himself from his last trip.
Everything the team did to prevent Mary Schafer from winning the karaoke contest failed. Plan A was to have Dr. Glenn call her to offer her free tickets to Twenty-one Pilots that night, her favorite band, but their research missed the fact that she promised her niece the karaoke.
For plan B, Dr. Jacobson had his dog lay on the ground in front of her car and begged her to help him get to the vets. Once she committed, he had several delay tactics cued up. However, he’d just gotten her attention when a neighborhood do-gooder took control and let her off the hook, giving them a ride and costing Jacobson a nice little vet bill for nothing. In the end, she still sang.
When Harvey arrived at the mall, the team gathered on the benches in front of Aunt Mimi’s Frozen Yogurt shop. In the window, an electronic message board flashed the words: ‘Short cuts make long delays.’ Harvey thought he recognized the adage, and its mysterious origin nagged at him. He bought himself a small cup of blue cotton candy flavor and joined them.
“It was too complicated.” Glenn spooned some chocolate into his mouth.
Almut sipped on a coffee, and Ron chewed on a pretzel.
“You think?” said Jacobson. “The problem is we don’t know what we’re going to change until one of us actually sees it in the future. Then we have to scramble to stop it.”
“Agreed,” said Ron.
“We need something that consistently changes every day,” said Glenn.
“I think that’s what I said,” said Jacobson. He scratched his bald head.
“In so many words.” Glenn scraped the bottom of his frozen yogurt cup.
Harvey took a tiny taste off his plastic spoon. “Sure, it’s got to predictably change, but it has to be something we can easily fix ourselves.”
“I believe I implied that, as well,” said Jacobson, his yellow froyo turning to liquid.
“Sure,” said Harvey. He was used to Jacobson’s abundant self-importance and ignored it. “But we should brainstorm things we can reliably predict and easily change.”
“There are only so many ways I can say ‘duh’” Jacobson tossed his half-full cup in the trash.
Tolkien. That’s where Harvey knew the message board’s saying from. In the Hobbit?
“Gentlemen.” Almut cradled her coffee cup between two hands in her lap. “Doesn’t Aunt Mimi’s change the saying on that message board every day?”
“Yeah. So what?” asked Jacobson.
“Oh, yeah,” said Glenn. “That’s it.”
Almut gulped some coffee. “Zara, the manager, changes it every morning before she goes to run the store on the north side.”
Harvey had seen the manager from time to time, a Malaysian woman who dressed a lot smarter than most food-service employees.
“I’m sure we could get someone to hack that,” said Harvey.
The next morning, Harvey climbed into the time machine again and paid another future visit to the mall a day later, just before lunch time. The message on Aunt Mimi’s said: ‘Money buys everything but good sense.’
Harvey wrote it word for word and took the trip back to the day before.
“Excellent.” Jacobson pulled on his thin tie. “Bring in Andy.”
A young man in a Chemical Romance T-shirt, tan corduroys, and flip-flops came into the lab.
“What is this place, man?” His eyes traveled up and down the time machine.
“Nothing to worry about,” said Jacobson. “Are you sure you can hack it?”
“Yeah. I got in this morning just to check it out.”
“What was the message?” asked Jacobson.
“I don’t remember. Something about tulips or daisies.”
Glenn held a slip of paper up next to Andy. “When you hack into the message board tomorrow, it’s going to say this.” He ran his finger underneath the money and good sense quote. “We want you to change it to this.” He ran his finger under the words: ‘Time is what we want most, but… what we use worst.’
Andy shrugged. “Kind of trite, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t choose it,” said Glenn.
The next day, Harvey accompanied Andy to get the job done. They took one of the benches, and Andy opened his laptop. He linked to the message board’s wireless interface and brought up a console display.
Harvey realized at that moment that the sign didn’t say ‘Money buys everything but good sense’ like he’d seen on his time trip. It said: ‘Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.’
“Wait,” he said. “It doesn’t look like she’s changed it, yet.”
“She has.” Andy tapped away at the keys. “That’s not what it said yesterday, and the change logged seven minutes ago.”
“That’s strange.” Harvey waved his finger at the keyboard. “Go ahead and put ours in as planned.”
A minute later, the ‘most and worst’ quote about time flashed on the board.
“Mission accomplished,” said Harvey.
Andy closed some programs and shut his laptop. Zara came out of the store, and smoothened out a sticker sign on the window. She looked at the aphorism about time and sputtered. “How’d that get on there?” She shook her head and started toward the north wing.
“We better stay here just in case she comes back,” said Harvey.
“Fine,” said Andy. “But I’m taking a nap.” He stretched out on the bench, lay his head on his laptop, and pushed Harvey off with his dirty tennis shoe. Harvey ambled around the shops across the hall and next door, and spent some time reading Kindle on his phone. He waited a few hours, then shook Andy to wake him.
“I gotta go,” said Harvey. “I can’t be here when I show up to look.”
“Awright.” Andy sat up and scooped up his laptop to go with him.
On the way to the car, they stopped at a high-class clothing store.
“Check this out,” said Harvey. He took Andy in and showed him a jacket that Harvey’s girlfriend kept hinting she wanted. “Five hundred bucks. Can you believe it?”
Andy smiled slyly, a twinkle in his eye. “Money buys everything but good sense.”
A musical voice behind them said, “Ooh, I like that.”
They turned around to find Zara, the Mimi’s manager. She winked at them, then exited the store, headed toward the south wing.
Harvey rolled his eyes. “Shit.”