A Portlander and a Japanese man walk into a ramshackle vacuum cleaner store, even this much was obvious to Saito. Hal is saying, “It’s ten-thirty, so it’s still to early to visit the Weather machine, but I believe I have something that will satisfy your curiosity, indeed, good sir. For you see, I have once or twice been privy to show around a tourist of a different sort than you. You, sir, are from a different country, but these individuals were from a different time.” Hal takes pause to look at his compatriot and the impact of the statement doesn’t seem to have taken effect. “They were time travelers,” and with this Hall makes a grand gesture. Saito smiles and the Shopkeep, behind a massive counter covered in papers, a register, and various vacuum cleaner parts, raises his eyebrow, but other than that, pays no attention.

Hal and Saito make their way to the back wall of the shop where sits a massive wall of shelves and many, many vacuum cleaners, from the modern to the classic, to downright unique examples of first vacuum cleaners, machines made of smoothed wood and engravings. Hal leans in to Saito conspiratorially and whispers, “What I was made privy to, by these travelers I mentioned, was that the machinery that eventually tries to enslave humanity, well, a key piece of that machine lies here. Now, of course, they would not share with me what particular part or element, if you will, was the very unique thing that they were seeking. Allowing me to have that information would likely change the timeline, I think—I don’t pretend to understand these matters—maybe cause them to never be born or some such nonsense, I suppose? But, I can tell you this: that critical piece of machinery lies here in this humble store. Now, isn’t that something?”

Saito nods and smiles.

“I have to say, you take news of the eventual enslavement of humanity with quite a good attitude. Then again… I suppose your people are somewhat used to the concept of empire and emperor, so perhaps it’s for the best that while this terrible thing has not yet come to pass. No, we should merely reflect upon it.” Hal reflects on the wall that is the demonstration of the brief history of vacuum cleaners. I suppose I could burn the whole place down—” at this Hal realizes the volume of his voice and glances toward the shopkeep, who is paying no mind. Relieved, Hal returns to his thought. “If I did the deed, who’s to say that any good would come of it? Perhaps I do and it’s the fire that transmutes the metal into the key piece. Is there any way to know?”

Saito is closely examining a tank vacuum cleaner, a reflective and sparkly blue cylinder on loose black plastic wheels. Hal observes and adds, “Could be that one. Could be.”