She closed her eyes, reciting line after line of every poem, song, and book she could remember, desperately trying to reinforce her mental defenses against the earworm’s attack. Unfortunately, humanity had yet to find a working defense against “It’s A Small World, After All.”

When he was younger, the future was a bright, shiny goal that he couldn’t wait to get to. Now that he was here, though it all seemed so sadly pedestrian and banal. Even personal transporters and alien coworkers lost their fascination after a few years of everyday encounters.

The ball had progressed beautifully. As each reveler grew tired and departed, whether alone or with one or more partners for more private entertainments, they drew a mask from the bin by the door, placed it over their face, and returned to the safety of everyday life once more.

Once the initial breakthrough was made, time-travel was actually fairly simple…as long as you were going backwards. After all, that had all already happened. But going forwards was a much larger dilemma due to the difficulty in targeting any one of the infinite possible futures.

While spell development was superficially similar to most any other sort of creative process, the fine-tuning was killer. There were just so many variables to know what to adjust — ingredients, gestures, words, tone of voice — that those final touches could be quite dangerous.

Space, as we all know, is silent. Sound can’t travel through a vacuum, it’s simple science.

But then the great bird of the galaxy appeared at the outer rim of the system, opened its vast beak, and uttered a call that used the very fabric of spacetime as a medium for its cry.

They’d finally managed to convince the supply chief to provision enough supplies to ensure they’d have a reasonable chance of making it across the wastelands. As long as the anti-grav units held out, at least, since replacement parts were more and more scarce every year.

The best part of being a bounty hunter was the chase, pursuing prey across planets and star systems, using every trick she could until she ran them to ground. The worst part was the time after the capture, when there was nothing to fill the days as she waited for a new contract.

After weeks of trudging through the monotony of desolate wilderness, it was startlingly obvious when their journey was nearing its end. Not just a line on a map, the border was actually a glimmering line in the air, beyond which flowering plants and tall trees grew once more.

All he wanted was to never have to deal with another winter in his life. Living in temperate climates wasn’t enough, because he might have to travel, or be invited somewhere. He wanted to make sure winter simply didn’t exist. Ever. Anywhere. And so he built his machine.