Finder's Fee

Finder's Fee

By Curt Rostenbach

Written April 2002

The man looked at the door to the office suite wondering if this was the place he had been told about.

Just then the door opened and a woman said, “Come in. We’ve been expecting you.”

He entered the small reception room, “I wasn’t sure, the door was not marked.”

“It’s meant to be that way.  Only clients are allowed here.”

“What makes you think I’m a client?”

She smiled and pointed to an open door, “You will be.  Please step this way, your account representative is waiting for you.”

The next room was a small office with desk and two chairs.  On the desk was a terminal of some sort and behind the desk stood a smiling man with his hand outstretched.

“Glad you could make it, sir.” He said as they shook hands, “Please be seated.”

“I must say I’m a little confused here,” said the man as he took the indicated seat.

“Don’t be, you’re here because you want us to find something for you.”

“Yes, that’s right.  How did you know?”

“That’s what we do here,” said the man behind the desk.  “Now what can we find for you?”

“I almost expect you to know that already.”

The man behind the desk smiled, glanced at the terminal screen and said, “Oh, we do, but it’s a bit like Schrödinger’s Cat, we will not know for certain until you actually say it.”

“I’m looking for a box of computer tapes.”

The man behind the desk, nodded as though it was the right answer.  “I now need to ask you a few questions, like, when was the last time you remember having the box?”

“Uh, this may be impossible since the last clear memory I have of it was in the computer room when I was in high school about thirty years ago.”

“The difficult problems are no problem, the impossible ones just take a little longer.  We expect to retrieve it within the week.”

“That’s amazing, may I ask how you intend to do that?”

“I’m afraid I …” the terminal chimed and he broke off to read the display.  “This is most extraordinary. I was going to say that we cannot reveal our methods, but I’ve just been instructed to answer any of your questions.”

“Instructed by who?”

The man behind the desk looked embarrassed, “By me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Let me answer your first question and it will become clear.  We will be launching a time probe to journey back to wherever and whenever it was that you last had the object you lost and retrieve it.”

“You’re joking.”

“No, I’m not,” pointing at the display, “that was a message from my future self, telling me it is ok to tell you everything I know.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“We’ll have your box in about a week.  You can believe me then.”

“How is it done?”

“I don’t know.”

“I thought you were to tell me everything.”

“Everything I know,” he amended, “I didn’t build the machines, I just work here.”

“Time travel is impossible.”

“Obviously not.  Difficult, yes.  We prefer to send messages rather than actually move physically through time.  Normally that is done by the time probes only.”

“Doesn’t that cause time paradoxes?”

“We have a philosophy we call ‘working within the noise’.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, take for instance, what did you eat for breakfast a week ago?  Would it have made any difference if you had eaten something different?  Do you even remember what it was you ate?”


“Well then, we operate at a level that should have almost no effect on the normal flow of time.”

“What if I had wanted you to save a dead son.”

“You never would have heard of us then,” the man behind the desk looked stern, ”we do occasionally retrieve lost pets, but never people.  That would have devastating consequences and definitely not be ‘working within the noise’.”

“Why wouldn’t pets have an affect.”

“First, we neuter the animals so they have no effect on the gene pool.  Second, we do a little research on the time line of the animal.  If the animal had been lost and scheduled for termination by an animal control agency, there is no problem.  If another family adopts the pet, we clone the animal and make a substitution.  The contractor wants the pet back for its personality, the new family doesn’t know it’s personality and won’t notice a difference in the substitution.  Of course, if we have to clone, it raises the price considerably.”

“How much is my search going to cost?”

“Something that you can afford.”

“Now there is where I don’t believe you that there would be no impact on the time stream.  Moving the money will have an affect on the financial futures.”

“Not really, we will create another account at your current financial institution and transfer the money there.  The same decisions made on how that money is used by the bank will be the same whether it comes from one account or two.  Once again we ‘work within the noise’.”

“You keep using that phrase.”

“We have to.  You see, we don’t want to be detected by anyone further in the future than my employers are.”

“You are from the future?”

“No, but my employers are.  We’re the earliest office of this kind, “ the man glanced at the display, “at least that we know of.”

“What’s the goal of your employer’s?”

“I don’t know for sure.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?  What if it’s for world domination?”

“Do you think they’d tell me?  Like any other job I’ve held, I get a paycheck.  The officers of the company have their own agenda that I am not privy to.  They tell me that it for the future good, which appeals to me, but I have no way of verifying that.  My best source of information is my future self and he tells me what he knows I will hear.  I have given this great thought, but the paradoxes and possibilities grow exponentially and in the end, I just cash my paycheck and hope for the best.”

He continued, “Probably it’s like most companies, their aim is make money.  I would think raising capital to fund the development of the time probes and their power source would be a major undertaking.”

“What powers your time probes?”

“If you go outside and look up, you will see the great daystar.  The Earth only receives a half billionth of its output at this distance.  We have powersats in solar polar orbit that collects all the energy we need.  We even furl the receptors as they pass the plane of the elliptic so we don’t affect the amount of solar radiation that the planets receive.  Once again, we ‘work within the noise’.”

The man pondered this for a moment and asked, “What if I asked you for a dinosaur egg?”

“Going back in time requires time AND distance.  Suppose I could push you back in time one minute.  What do you think would happen?”

“There would be two of me in this room for a minute.”

“Wrong, for the first few seconds you’d be trying to breathe vacuum because you would be 1100 miles from where the Earth would be in the future.  The next few, you’d be burning up on entering the atmosphere as this planet approached you at about 67 thousand miles per hour.  Sending back a probe, “ he concluded, “requires movement in time and space.  Going back thirty years is hard enough, going back millions would out of the question, the solar system moves through space as well.”

“Well, you’ve certainly given me a lot to think about.”

“Come back next week for your box of computer tapes and you can see if it is true.”

“How do you know I won’t tell everyone about this?”

The man behind the desk gestured to the display, “Then I wouldn’t have gotten the authorization to tell you what I have.”

The man rose from his chair, “Well, thank you for taking the time with me.”

“No, thank you.” The man behind the desk rose to shake hands in parting,  “You can’t imagine how much I’ve wanted to be able to tell a client our methods.  I’ve always had to come up with clever evasions whenever asked.  You’ve given me the chance to speak honestly.”

“Until next week then.” And the man left.

The women entered the office, “That took longer than usual.”

Swiveling the display, “Look at this.”

“I see,” she said, “You know why don’t you?”


“I think he will be one of the founding fathers to the corporation.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because I received instructions to insert another tape into the box we are retrieving for him.”

“Won’t he notice it?”

“I guess we are hoping he does, but won’t remember that it wasn’t his,” she said.

“I don’t understand. Why?”

“He will think that it is some line research he was doing at the time and forgot about.  Combined with what you said to him today, will get him thinking on how he can exploit it.”

“Doesn’t that violate the principle of ‘working with the noise’?”

“Not really.  It is because of noise that our senses are better than they should be.”

“How can that be?”

“Our senses have a certain threshold of response.  If it weren’t for the noise that occasionally boosts a signal above that threshold, we’d never detect it.  So noise makes us more sensitive.  We’re taking a signal that would have been lost and boosting it a little.  Otherwise we would never be able to create any changes without them being detected.  And you know how we need to make sure that any changes we make can be hidden in the noise.  If our visitor does not notice the tape or does not make use of it, no harm is done and we’ll try with someone else.”

“So we will be adding a little bit as a finder’s fee.”