* * * * *
"Your superiors?" Dan eyed the window; much too far to jump. Maybe he could reach the machine and try a getaway--
"I hope you're not thinking of leaving suddenly," the beachball said, following Dan's glance. One of the eighteen fingers touched a six-inch yellow cylinder lying on the desk. "Until the carrier is fueled, I'm afraid it's quite useless. But, to put you in the picture, I'd best introduce myself and explain my mission here. I'm Blote, Trader Fourth Class, in the employ of the Vegan Confederation. My job is to develop new sources of novelty items for the impulse-emporiums1 of the entire Secondary Quadrant."
"But the way Manny and Fiorello came sailing in through the wall! That has to be a time machine they were riding in. Nothing else could just materialize out of thin air like that."
"You seem to have a time-machine fixation, Dan," Blote said. "You shouldn't assume, just because you people have developed time travel, that everyone has. Now--" Blote's voice sank to a bass whisper--"I'll make a deal with you, Dan. You'll secure a small time machine in good condition for me. And in return--"
"I’m supposed to supply you with a time machine?"
Blote waggled2 a stubby3 forefinger at Dan. "I dislike pointing it out, Dan, but you are in a rather awkward position at the moment. Illegal entry, illegal possession of property, trespass4--then doubtless some embarrassment exists back at the Snithian residence. I daresay Mr. Kelly would have a warm welcome for you. And, of course, I myself would deal rather harshly with any attempt on your part to take a powder."
The Vegan flexed all eighteen fingers, drummed his tentacles5 under the desk, and rolled one eye, bugging the other at Dan.
"Whereas, on the other hand," Blote's bass voice went on, "you and me got the basis of a sweet deal. You supply the machine, and I fix you up with an abundance of the local medium of exchange. Equitable enough, I should say. What about it, Dan?"
"Ah, let me see," Dan temporized. "Time machine. Time machine--"
"Don't attempt to weasel on me, Dan," Blote rumbled ominously.
"I'd better look in the phone book," Dan suggested.
Silently, Blote produced a dog-eared directory. Dan opened it.
"Time, time. Let's see...." He brightened. "Time, Incorporated; local branch office. Two twenty-one Maple Street."
"A sales center?" Blote inquired. "Or a manufacturing complex?"
"Both," Dan said. "I'll just nip over and--"
"That won't be necessary, Dan," Blote said. "I'll accompany you." He took the directory, studied it.
"Remarkable! A common commodity, openly on sale, and I failed to notice it. Still, a ripe nut can fall from a small tree as well as from a large." He went to his desk, rummaged, came up with a handful of fuel cells. "Now, off to gather in the time machine." He took his place in the carrier, patted the seat beside him with a wide hand. "Come, Dan. Get a wiggle on."
1. emporium a shop that sells many different types of things
2. waggle to move up and down or from side to side with short quick movements, or to make something move that way
3. stubby short and thick
4. trespass to go into a place without owner’s permission
5. tentacle one of the long thin arms of an octopus that it uses for feeling things or for moving