A Consumer’s Rights, by Matthew Harrison
Asking for my money back was a really terrible idea. I should have realised that when I saw the assistant’s face, but like a fool I persisted.
“You’ve had your holiday, Mr Hargreaves,” the assistant said sweetly, but with a cold glint in her eye.
“I know,” I said firmly, “but I still want my money back. Elsa.” (That was the name on her badge.)
She thought for a moment. “Are you unsatisfied with the holiday?”
I couldn’t honestly say I was. It had been a standard hover tour of the Grecian Near East. My grav-pack broke down at one point, but the reserve kicked in at once and the guide quickly set me up with another. Nothing to speak of. I shook my head.
Elsa hesitated. “It would make it much easier for us, Mr Hargreaves…”
“Look, Elsa,” I said, “that’s what the sign says, right?”
The sign above her desk stated simply, ‘Money back, no questions asked’.
“All right,” Elsa said, “I’ll have to speak to my manager.”
The manager, Roy, was Gliesian, you can tell, but I don’t have anything against them. They’re pretty harsh on their subject peoples, but now we’re at peace one has to take a broad view of that. In the slightly slurring speech of his synthesiser, Roy asked for my details. Then he frowned.
“Quite honestly, Mr Hargreaves, it’s difficult.”
“Oh?” I said, putting on an aggressive tone. I really needed the money.
“If you had a complaint, we could do it as a restitution. That’s covered by our insurance. But a straight refund – after you’ve had the holiday…” He fixed me with a beady non-human eye. “Do you know what that involves?”
“That’s your problem,” I said huffily. “I just want the money.”
“We’re not at liberty to just give it to you, Mr Hargreaves – may I call you, Jim?” He was viewing the hologram of my file. “No, Jim,” (he said it in that muffled way Gliesians have, as if through a mouthful of bread) “our shareholders wouldn’t accept that.
We’d have to take the holiday back.”
I began to reappraise my tolerance of Gliesians. “I didn’t ask for time travel…”
“You want to us to undo the memory, synapse by synapse?” Roy was becoming sarcastic. “We’re just a travel company.”
“Whatever. I just want the money. And,“ I pointed to the sign “it does say, ‘No questions’.“
“Okay, okay, Jim,” he tried to smile at me, which never works very well with that stiff Gliesian face. “We can use the public fund, although that’s really for accidents…”
“Fine,” I said.
“But do you know the amount of energy it will involve, Mr… Jim?” He was almost pleading with me – Gliesians are naturally mean. “It hits the taxpayer in the end.”
“That’s fine with me,” I said. I mean, I’m a taxpayer too, for god’s sake!
Elsa was smiling at me now, a little stiffly. “We’ll fix you up right away, Mr Hargreaves. Thank you for using Persephone Tours!”
I had expected them to refer me to the nearest public time travel facility. But no, they were going to do it on the premises themselves.
“Just a minute,” I said as Elsa sat me down and began the preparations. “Are you licensed for this?”
Elsa gave me that cold look of hers. “We are a travel company, Mr Hargreaves.”
Well, I had asked for it. The thing is, I needed the money. I basically had to undo all the non-essential spending I’d done in the past I don’t know how long until I paid off my debt. No choice about it.
So I put on a brave face. “Well, strap me up, then!”
“I will, I will,” Elsa said quietly, in a way that I didn’t quite like.
Still, I had to work with her. “Do you do this often?” I asked, as she fastened me in.
“Not very often.” She had a slight lisp, I now noticed – quite appealing, really.
“But you’ve done it before. I mean, it all works and everything?”
“Oh yes, Mr Hargreaves, it works rather well.”
“That’s good.” I sat back. “I know I’m putting you to trouble, I didn’t really expect you to have to…”
“It’s no trouble, Mr Hargreaves–”
“Jim,” I said.
“Mr Jim. We’ll have you fixed up in no time.”
“Just back to before the holiday began,” I said, “no need for more than that.” I laughed: “I’m not looking for a rejuvenation job!”
“Oh, no, Mr Jim, indeed not. You don’t need one.“
I was quite chuffed. I mean, an unsolicited compliment, from an attractive girl too. I lay back in the seat as Elsa inserted the electrodes and calibrated the renormaliser.
When I’d come forward again, I’d look her up. At my age, a man can’t let a chance go by. Not that I exactly had budget for it, but charm doesn’t cost anything, does it? And I obviously had charm–in spades. You old dog! I thought to myself.
But I was running ahead of things. “I thought there was some sort of kit – to go with me?”“ I said. “Sort of adjustment pack…?”
“Oh, you won’t need that.”
“Right, I guess not.” I tried to relax. “Well, if that’s everything, beam me back, then!”
“I will, Mr Jim, don’t you worry.”
You’re supposed to shut your eyes, against possible overspill from the voltaic connectors, but I kept mine open. The last thing I saw before reality dissolved was Elsa smiling at me stiffly. When I got back, I’d sure help her loosen up…
When I rematerialised I was sitting on the ground, with a headache. Time travel’s usually a clean experience (except in the rare cases where you simply don’t arrive), so I wondered what had happened. And I couldn’t move my feet.
As my eyes got into focus, I realised I was in some sort of large shed. There were other people around, seemed to be aliens, miserable-looking. How strange! And what was that round my feet? I looked down, it seemed to be some kind of shackles.
Where was I? I hobbled over to the window. It didn’t look like England. Or even Greece. A large red sun, rust-coloured vegetation…
Crack! I jumped and turned round. There was a Gliesian lurching towards me, with a whip. And he wasn’t even trying to smile.
Matthew Harrison is a long-time resident of Hong Kong, and whether it is the quirks of that city or some other reason entirely his writing has veered from non-fiction to mainstream and he is currently reliving a boyhood passion for science fiction. Matthew has had flash fiction published by various online venues, and he is building up to longer pieces as he learns more about the universe. His day job is in finance, which is already strange enough to provide material for many stories, and he is married with two children but, regretfully, no pets as there is no space for these in Hong Kong. See more of Matthew at MatthewHarrison.hk
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Tags: Matthew Harrison, misunderstandings, science fiction