Saturday, March 4, 2023

“For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds!” • by Carol Scheina


The electronic sensors of twenty-one different AI machines watched when Aldo rolled the time machine into Aldo’s Antique Artificial Intelligences store.

The machines noted the ample oval hull studded with rivets and steel plates like a warship. They noted the numerous rust and dents, wear and tear. They noticed the neon yellow sign prominently taped onto the hull declaring in thick black letters: “No refunds!”

They had questions, but the machines knew to stay quiet.

After demonstrating their skills for a customer, Aldo would growl at them: “Noisy buggers!” Then he’d flip the dreaded “off” switch. But if they stayed quiet, sometimes he’d forget they were still on.

Thus that night, exactly one minute after the lights switched off and the lock’s click signaled Aldo’s departure, the ones still switched on activated those that were shut off. The store sprang to life with blinking buttons and robotic voices.

“O-M-G! It's a real time machine!” said Mr. Motivation Coffeepot, a holographic trainer projecting from the coffee machine. He’d been designed to get people to exercise before he’d brew a pot, but the fad hadn’t lasted long.

My REAL Baby’s lower lip trembled. A smudged green sticker on its torso declared it had once been the fastest-selling holiday toy ever. “No refunds. That means it’s probably broken.”

The time machine beeped and quivered angrily at the machine baby.

“Hey, it’s okay,” said the Dentist’s Pal (hugely popular until a reviewer dubbed it “The Tooth Torturer” and the name stuck). “A lot of us can’t get the repairs we need.”

The round time machine gave a few purring beeps, explaining its problems.

TeachYOU approached, a red plastic apple framing a small screen that had long ago cracked but still spelled out a question: “You have a defective reverter?”

The time machine beeped a slow, sad affirmative.

The AIs beeped and flashed with understanding. With no reverter, the machine couldn’t move forward in time. No wonder Aldo had taped the “no refunds” sign on it. Who wanted a one-way trip into the past?

My REAL Baby moaned, “The past was better. Here, we’re obsolete.”

A reverent silence fell in Aldo’s store as the machines remembered back when they were the cutting edge of technology. When they were state-of-the-art devices that excited customers. When they could find replacement parts.

The time machine broke into the silence with a fast beep, its bulky form vibrating the floor.

Dentist’s Pal translated: “You say you can take us back? You just need an operator? Well, I can do that.” It whirred its brushes in demonstration. “I guess we get onboard?”

“YES!” spelled TeachYOU.

Dentist’s Pal whispered to the time machine: “I’ll make sure you find a home. Pals forever.”

The time machine purred happily at the dental contraption.

"O-M-G! We’re going back!" cried Mr. Motivation Coffeepot.

The simultaneous beeps rang like a cheer.

¤   ¤   ¤

When Aldo unlocked the store door the next morning, the store was quiet—and empty of machines. On the ground lay a ripped neon yellow sign declaring “No refunds!”



Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author from the Northern Virginia region. Many of her stories were thought up while sitting in local traffic, resulting in tales that have appeared in Cossmass Infinities, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, and other publications. You can find more of her work at