January 11, 2002

Bob looked around the room. It looked like their loading dock, there were the bay doors on one side, the old merchandise pick-up door (that hadn't been used in at least ten years, not that stopped the occassional customer from driving back there and waiting) on the other. The cardboard baler, the trash compacter, it was all there, and where it should be.

"Look at it, Good Buddy," Jack said as he ran his hand along a shelf. "The paint's still fresh. The little cracks in the concrete floor are missing. Everything just sort of feels ... newer, somehow. And there aren't any elves, either."

Again with the elves. It wasn't even that clever an alleged hallucination "You're right. It's almost like--" "Like we've traveled back in time!" Jack finished.

Bob sighed, and counted to ten. Time travel was impossible, everyone knew that. The very idea--!

Bob took off his name badge and ran for the salesfloor. It was a stupid idea, but the alternatives were far, far worse.

Jack caught up to Bob and asked what he was doing.

Once again, Bob counted to ten before saying anything. "Think about it, Jack. Somehow, against all logic, you and I have gone back in time. Far enough back that we don't work here yet, and that means we shouldn't be back in the storerooms.

They were on the action figure aisle. Bob looked around at all the vintage toys, fresh, new, readily available, and worth quite a bit to collectors in the present. The future. Whatever.

There were the last of the first-ever line of Hyperforce figures. Over there, a platoon of first-ever Real American Heroes. Between them ... Star Wars.

Bob was halfway out of the aisle when Jack called him Good Buddy again. "I just thought of something," Jack continued, "that Vader figure you conned me out of should still be under it's shelf, don't you think?"

"I didn't con anyone out of anything," Bob said. It was a futile effort, trying to correct Jack, but Bob did it every time. He had no choice, really. After all, the law of averages suggested that someday he might get through to him.

The two of them walked over to the aisle Bob had found the Darth Vader figure some months back. In their own time, it would have preschool toys; today it was a book aisle, and the difference was more than a little disconcerting. Jack was still talking. "Maybe we were sent back here to do something that ensures history follows its proper course, like Quantum Leap or something.

"Maybe you're just an idiot," Bob said to himself.

"No, that's not it. I think we've been sent back so that little toy winds up in the grubby little hands of some unwashed six-year-old, thereby keeping it out of your greedy little profiteering hands twenty-some-odd years from now."

Bob crouched down, unhooked the little plate that filled the gap between the shelf and the floor, and felt around underneath. There was nothing there.

"Can I help you?" asked a female voice from behind and above.

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