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Funny Fiction Science Fiction

I know I’m lucky to be here, but I keep having to remind myself. Like repeating it often enough will somehow make it true.

The computer screen in front of me displays the latest report that I’m trying to complete. My vision blurs, and I blink to bring the letters and numbers, the tiny boxes I’m supposed to fill, back into focus. I’ve been at this since half past six this morning, and it’s getting to me.

When I joined prestigious research corporation Luminor, I thought I’d be doing something more glamorous than data entry. But every ladder has a bottom rung, so, here I am, telling myself I’m lucky to be here.

My gaze flicks to the little clock in the corner of my screen. Almost noon. I hear there’s pizza on the cafeteria menu today. Will anyone notice if sneak out a few minutes early?

I slip out of my cubicle, glancing toward the closed door of my shift supervisor. With a little luck—

“Going somewhere, Mr. Wester?”

I cringe and look over my shoulder to see the short, skinny form of Jeff Smalls, my immediate superior. “Uh, no, just—”

“Good, ‘cause I’ve just sent ten more F-7s to your inbox; get them done before you head to lunch.” He marches away without another word.

Sighing, I return to my desk. Forty-five minutes, I hurry out of the cubicle farm and head for the cafeteria. I should have just enough time to bolt down a few slices before one o’clock.

The cafeteria is still packed, my fellow low-level paper pushers munching and chatting and pushing off the inevitable return to being productive. Snagging a tray, I hurry to the food tables, only to find them empty.

“Hey,” I say. “Where’s the pizza?”

A coworker looks up from a nearby table, his cheeks bulging. “All gone,” he mumbles through his mouthful. “Sorry.”

I give him my best look of wounded disappointment.

“There’s still…” He looks around, scanning the food bar. “The tuna!” He points triumphantly at a handful of small, plastic-wrapped sandwiches.

“The tuna?” I glare at him. “Seriously?”

He shrugs, goes back to chewing contentedly.

I glance at the digital clock on the wall. No time to order anything. That middle-management tyrant Smalls will freak if I’m not back tapping keys in ten minutes, and if he finds me eating at my desk his fury will open a gaping rent to Hell.

I look up and down the food bar, but there’s nothing else, not even a salad. In desperation, I grab a sandwich, then slide into the nearest vacant seat.

As I unwrap the sandwich, the smell that rises from the grey paste smeared across the off-white bread is almost enough to kill my appetite. Tuna. Who decided that some slimy fish was edible?

The first bite is as bad as I feared, the fishy taste assaulting my tongue, with far too little mayonnaise or mustard to cut the dry, salty tang. I wolf the sandwich down as fast as possible, eager for the experience to be over.

Then a wave of dizziness washes over me, and a twinge of nausea curls my gut. I clutch at the edge of the table to keep from toppling to the floor, thinking about food poisoning. I’m going to die, right here, taken out by a tuna sandwich gone bad.

A second later it all passes, leaving me feeling as fine as possible with the sour aftertaste of fish in my mouth. I look up, expecting to see my tablemates staring at me with slack-jawed concern.

Well, they are.

Only they’re not my tablemates. Instead of the familiar faces of my fellow office drones, I’m staring at a bunch of strangers.

All across the lunchroom, men and women sit, wearing uniform white shirts with the same dark ties, over neatly pressed slacks and skirts. More of them are wearing glasses, almost all the same hornrims.

Did I mention that they’re staring back at me, mouths open in surprise?

“Who are you?” One of the guys at my table says. “Do you work here?”

“Uh.” It’s all I can come up with.

“You look… strange. What are you wearing?”

Not a lot of jeans and t-shirts around here, I see. “Um, is this the lunchroom for Luminor?”

“Yeah, it is,” he says. His eyes narrow in suspicion. “Are you supposed to be here?”

“Well, yeah,” I reply, looking around, hoping to find a hidden camera or something.  Even the room looks strange, full of wooden tables and chairs. Instead of the digital clock on the wall, there’s now one of those round face clocks, behind a wire cage. “I work here. Data entry.”

“Data entry? What’s that?” He purses his lips. “I think I’m gonna call security.”

“What?” Alarm spikes through me. Security? Because I thought casual Friday meant jeans? “Wait—”

But he’s already hurrying away, waving at a figure wearing a brown uniform and one of those silly police hats. The guard responds immediately, like he’s just been waiting for the chance to do his job. The unfamiliar office drone says something to him, and then, as with one mind, both turn to look at me. The guard places his hand on the butt of his gun, an expression on his face of mingled grim purpose and elation.

I don’t know what to do. Should I run? Should I stay? Naturally, I can’t decide quickly enough, and I’m halfway out of my chair, having banged a knee on the table, when the guard reaches me.

“Okay, pal,” he says, clapping a hand on my shoulder and causing me to freeze instantly. “Looks like you don’t belong here. What’s your name?”

“Name?” I repeat. “Oh. Name. Bob. Bob Wester, Data Entry. I’ve got my ID card here.” I fumble the bit of plastic out of my pocket and hand it over, telling myself this will all be sorted out quickly.

The guard eyes my ID like I’ve handed him a two-dollar bill. “What is this? Never seen a card like this. You’d better come with me.” His hand shifts from my shoulder to a grip on my arm.

Come. With. Me. I know what that means, and it’s never good.

“You know, hold on a sec, I think maybe I am in the wrong place,” I babble. “I should just leave, no need for any trouble…”

The guard’s grip tightens, and my feeble attempt to extricate myself dies on my lips. I glance around, in the desperate hope that someone will come to my aid.

Everyone in the cafeteria is frozen in the act of eating, staring like gazelles seeing a lion take down a separated member of the herd, with that expression of sick relief that, this time at least, it isn’t them under the teeth and claws.

“You know what I think, pal?” the guard asks, a rhetorical question if ever I’ve heard one. “I think you might be a Commie spy. I think we’re gonna have a long talk. Right now.” The firm hold on my arm turns into a pulling force, dragging me to my feet and propelling me toward the doorway.

“Stop!” The voice comes out of nowhere, an imperious cry that awakens a glimmer of hope in me. “Stop just a moment!”

I whirl toward the speaker, to see a small man, bald as an egg, hurrying towards me and the guard. A pair of round glasses sit askew on his nose, and a white lab coat flaps about his pudgy frame. “Hold on there,” he says, breathing heavily as he comes up to us. “There’s been a misunderstanding here.”

The guard frowns. “What kind of misunderstanding, Dr. Holt? I’m just about to take this guy downstairs for a chat.”

Those words have never sounded more sinister, and I really hope that this Dr. Holt is my deliverance.

Holt is shaking his head. “There’s no need for that. This man is a test subject, helping me with a sensitive experiment.” He casts a sympathetic look on me. “You see, he’s a veteran of the War, a very troubled young man, and I’m trying to devise a treatment.”

“Oh.” The guard releases me at once, understanding crossing his face, chasing away an evident disappointment. He hands my ID card to the little man. “Of course. I’ll let you take it from here, Dr. Holt.”

“Thank you.” Holt turns to me, glancing at the card in his hands. “Now, Robert, why don’t we go back to the lab, and we’ll see about… sorting this out.”

That sounds like just about the best idea I’ve ever heard. I fall into step beside the portly scientist, breathing a sigh of relief as we leave the lunchroom and its staring crowd behind us. “Thanks, Doc,” I say. “I don’t know who you are, or where I am, or what’s going on, but thanks anyway.”

The man is silent for a moment, turning my card over and over, with a frown of concentration on his face. He leads me down a hall, into an elevator, without a word. We ascend a few floors, exit onto another hallway, walls the same pale green, only adorned now with a lot of ominous posters and placards, warning about restricted access and authorized personnel only. I follow the scientist past several doors, blank wooden facades devoid of anything other than numbers. He reaches one, opens it up with a key, ushers me inside, and closes the door behind us.

Then he looks up at me, a smile of triumph on his face. “I am so happy to see you,” he says. Then he takes my hand and shakes it enthusiastically. “Finally some proof of my theory!”

“Uh, okay,” I say, still utterly confused. “What theory?”

“As you have no doubt divined,” Holt says, bustling across what looks like any other laboratory I’ve ever been in, full of strange machines and cluttered tables. “I’m a scientist. For most of my life, I’ve been absolutely obsessed with proving the viability of time travel.”

“Time travel?” I repeat, incredulous. “Wait a sec; I’ve travelled through time?”

Holt turns toward me, his triumphant grin undiminished, and brandishes my ID. “This identification expires in 2024. Either you have an immense imagination, or you’ve travelled back in time from some point in the future. Let me speculate: you at the tuna fish sandwich?”

“Yeah,” I say, my eyes narrowing. “What about it?”

Holt purses his lips. “Let me ask you, have you ever experienced a powerful sense of nostalgia at the taste of a particular food? A sense so strong it practically takes you back into a different time?”

“Well, yeah, but—”

“I’ve theorized that this isn’t just a sensation. When two events, at two different occasions in time, are so similar as to be indistinguishable, a connection between those two points is established. Ordinarily, it is too fleeting to allow a crossing, but the chemical formula I’ve created enhances the connection to the level where actual travel between two times is possible, drawing whoever eats the tuna back to the first day of the experiment. Today.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Yet here you are, Mr. Wester. This is the year 1952. You’ve travelled through time, across seventy years.” He gives a happy sigh. “Wondrous, isn’t it?”

Not what I would call it. “So, you have the cooks slip this… formula… into the tuna sandwiches? Did you tell anyone?”

Holt’s face falls into a frown. “Well, um. No. But science, true science, can’t be held back by petty rules and regulations. It’s a quest—”

“So you’re little experiment has been running for seventy years, with the cafeteria staff slipping this stuff into every tuna sandwich they make.” I give a soft snort. “Why on earth did you pick tuna? No one eats tuna.”

He blinks. “I love tuna.”

I blink. “Okay. Just saying, Doc, if you’d gone with the potato salad, you’d have had results within a week.”

“Hmmm. I’ll have to consider that.” He smiles again. “I can’t tell you how wonderful this vindication is.”

“That’s great, Doc. So happy I could help. But what happens now?”


“Yeah, now,” I say, my amazement and disbelief morphing into annoyance. “As in, how do I get back to my own time?”

“Get back?” He looks completely baffled. “But… why would you want to go back? You’re the first person to travel through time! You’ll be celebrated!” He laughs. “Why, you’re lucky to be here! Why would you want to go back?”

I pause, asking myself that same question. Why do I want to go back? Why do I want to return to that humdrum life, sitting at a desk all day, trying to avoid the tuna fish for lunch? What’s so great about my life that I need to go back to it?

But then I think about what awaits me here. Q&A session with scientists. TV interviews. Poking and prodding, endless debate. And then there’s all the things that could get messed up, all the things I might change for the worse just by telling people what might happen. No, this isn’t right. I shouldn’t be here. If I stay here, I might ruin everything for everybody.

Of course, the good doctor might not see things my way. He might not want to help me get back.

I plaster a false smile on my face. “You know what, Doc? You’re right. But I really need to use the john. Which way?”

“Right outside the lab, first door on the left,” Holt says, opening up a journal and starting to scribble. “Hurry back, though. We’ve got phone calls to make, important people to contact.”

“Right.” I slip out of the room, and just like that, I’ve escaped the mad scientist’s lair. It’s amazing how stupid smart people can be.

Retracing my route is easy. I’ve long since gotten used to navigating featureless corridors, and whatever else has changed in seventy years, the cafeteria is still in the same place.

It’s deserted now, and all the food’s been stowed away. I spot the entrance to food services, or whatever they call it now. I’m operating on a hunch, a vague sort of understanding, and hope. If a tuna sandwich brought me here, then maybe—just maybe—a tuna sandwich can take me back.

An alarm sounds, a harsh jangling that sounds like a fire alarm, but I know it’s for me. Dr. Holt has realized that there’s no way I could have been going to the bathroom for this long.

So, I need a tuna sandwich, and I need one fast. Never thought I’d even think that to myself.

The door leads to a room full of tall shelves, each one laden with bins containing the food that hasn’t been eaten today. And, wonder of wonders, it’s all labelled. I reach the one for the tuna, unsurprised to find it full of untouched sandwiches.

I’m in the act of reaching for one of them, when the doors fly open behind me.

“Ah ha! I was right!” A glance over my shoulder reveals that same guard from earlier. Once again, he’s got his hand on his gun and a euphoric look on his face. “I know a Commie spy when I see one!”

I stand there frozen, wondering if I can wolf down a sandwich before he gets that gun out.

“Step away from the shelf and get your hands where I can see them!” the guard barks.

Against my survival instincts, I disobey. Moving slowly, I wrap my fingers around a sandwich, the paper crinkling under my touch.

“Stop! Drop that sandwich!”

“I’m starving,” I say. “I just want a bite.” I lift it free of the bin, slowly working it out of the wrapper, never taking my eyes off the guard.

“Pal, do you wanna get shot!” His pistol clears its holster. “I said drop it!”

I stuff the sandwich into my mouth, chewing frantically, and swallow the lump of bread and fishy paste.

The gun barrel swings toward me, and I close my eyes, expecting to hear a shot any second.

Then dizziness and nausea wash over me …

And I’m standing in the food services room, next to a bin full of untouched tuna sandwiches, a bit of crumpled plastic wrap lying at my feet and the taste of fish on my tongue.

But there’s no guard pointing a gun at me, so, I guess it worked.

Moments later, I dash up to my desk, in my familiar cubicle, and sink into my chair. I jostle the mouse, and my screen comes back to life, revealing another dozen items in my inbox. It’s enough to bring tears of joy to my eyes.

“So, Mr. Wester,” an all-too-familiar voice booms behind me. Supervisor Smalls stands behind me, hands planted on his hips. “Running late, are we?”

“Sorry, sir,” I say, fighting down the urge to leap up and wrap the man in a hug.

“Do you have some good reason for being absent from your cubicle for a solid thirty-two minutes of company time?” He glares down at me, as if I’ve committed an unforgivable infraction.

“Well…” I can’t tell him the truth, of course. He’d probably think I was making fun of him, and might have an aneurism or something. “I… ate something I shouldn’t have.” A smile crosses my face. “I barely made it back in time.”

“You didn’t,” he snaps. “And you’ll make it up at the end of your shift. After mandatory overtime.” He storms off, already in search of his next victim.

My smile widens. I’ve just been through the strangest time of my life, have nothing but a few bites of tuna in my stomach, and now I’m facing hours more of boring, tedious work. But after everything I’ve experienced, I’ve come to realize something.

I’m really lucky to be here.

December 15, 2023 17:51

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1 comment

David Cantwell
14:18 Dec 21, 2023

What a fun story! However, I like tuna too. You did a great job of giving me everything I needed to be part of your tale. Great job entertaining me.


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