Editor's note: Futures 2 collects together 100 stories from 100 authors. This eclectic selection tries to address the question "what will the future really be like?" in tales just 900 words long. A celebration of flash fiction, the new anthology features contributions from Madeline Ashby, Neal Asher, Tony Ballantyne, Barrington Bayley, Elizabeth Bear, Jacey Bedford, Gregory Benford, Tobias Buckell, Brenda Cooper, Kathryn Kramer, David Langford, Tanith Lee, Ken Liu, Nick Mamatas, Norman Spinrad, Ian Stewart, Rachel Swirsky, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Ian Whates, among others. To buy it visit http:/nature.com/naturefutures2, and for more on Nature Futures see http://nature.com/futures.
He was easy to spot—clothes from the twenty-first century, dazed look. I didn't have to say anything. He blurted out, "Look, I'm from the past, a time traveller. But I get snapped back there in a few minutes."
"I know." We stood in a small street at the edge of the city, dusk creeping in. Distant, glazed towers gleamed in the sunset and pearly lights popped on down along the main road. Jaunters always chose to appear at dawn or dusk, where they might not be noticed but could see a town. No point in transporting into a field somewhere, which could be any time at all, even the far past. Good thing he couldn't see the city rubble, too. Or realize this was how I made my living.
His mouth twisted in surprise. "You do? I thought I might be the first to come here. To this time."
I gave him a raised eyebrow. "No. There was another last week."
"Really? The professor said the other experiments failed. They couldn't prove they'd been into the future at all."
They always want to talk, though they'd learn more with their mouths closed.
He rattled on, "I have to take something back, to show I was here. Something—"
"How about this?" I pulled out a slim metal cylinder. "Apply it to your neck five times a day and it extracts cancer precursors. In your era, that will extend your average lifetime by several years."
His eyebrows shot up. "Wow! Sure—" He reached for it but I snatched it back.
"What do I get in exchange?" I said mildly.
That startled him. "What? I don't have anything you could use..." He searched his pockets in the old fashioned wide-label jacket. "How about money?" A fistful of bills.
"I'm not a collector, and those are worthless now, inflated away in value."
The time jaunter blinked. "Look, this is one of the first attempts to jump forward and back. I don't have—"
"I know, we've seen jaunters from your era already. Enough to set up a barter system. That's why I had this cancer-canceller."
Confusion swarmed in his face. "Lady, I'm just a guinea pig here. A volunteer. They didn't give me—"
I pointed. "Your watch is a pleasant anachronism, I'll take that." I gave him the usual ceramic smile.…
Read the full story in the Futures 2 anthology.