The Day They Switched the Machine On
“This is it? This is the time machine?”
Max replied before Amelia could stop him. Her research partner was like a kid with a toy. A mathematical genius, to be sure, but useless at handling the world’s media.
“Strictly speaking, no,” Max was saying. “It doesn’t so much move a subject through time as across into a sibling universe where the chronology is out of phase to the required degree. So, it’s really a quantum computer running an algorithm that lets us identify a decohered cosmos where the current date is the one we require. And where the subject concerned happens to have unexpectedly appeared from our universe. Which is an extremely unlikely event, of course, but with an infinite number of universes in the multiverse…”
She could see he’d lost them already. Some of the reporters scribbled on their pads. Most just stared at the two of them waiting for something they could use. She placed a hand on Max’s shoulder. The media would reduce the story to simplistic soundbites whatever they said. All they could do was try to make sure the right simplistic sound-bites got through.
“What Dr. Jensen is saying is that this device is in effect a time machine,” she said.
Some of the assembled hacks nodded. Others gazed at the silver sphere held in its electromagnetic cradle on the table between them. It was, she was the first to admit, pretty unimpressive. She’d been tempted to add some flashing lights and whirling dials just for effect.
“And it works? You’ve sent things forwards or backwards in time?” Patel from The Daily News. At least he was keeping up.
“Not yet,” she said. “We’ve confirmed our algorithms can identify an appropriate target universe via interference patterns with our own. We’ve run many software simulations. The next step is to try actual matter, which is why we’ve gathered you here at the Institute today. Our aim is to send a small number of carbon atoms forward by precisely one hour.”
“But they’ll be in a different universe. How can we ever know it’s worked?” Patel sounded suspicious. She gave him her broadest media smile.
“Excellent question. Our calculations show that the two universes will be sufficiently similar for them to reconverge. We should, therefore, see the carbon atoms reappear. If we don’t then, well, we’ll have acquired some invaluable research data and you’ll have had a free lunch.”
That got a few grins at least. There was a moment of silence as every reporter scribbled. She flashed a smile aside at Max. She’d got them, now.
“But, ah, what about the general theory of relativity?” said a voice from the back.
Petersen from The Times. Great. If there was one thing worse than a hack who knew nothing about science it was a hack who knew next to nothing about science.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “What about it?”
“I’m sure I don’t need to explain,” said Petersen. “Einstein’s assertion that time travel from the future is possible, but only back to the moment at which a time machine is activated.”
“Einstein did say that, yes. Sorry, I’m not following your point?”
“Well, by switching this machine on, aren’t you effectively opening a portal to the future?”
She sighed to herself. She could see the headlines already. She’d hoped for Age of Time Travel Dawns, or Day of Miracles. Now it would be Boffins Open Gateway to Invaders from The Future!
“Well, that’s rather an oversimplification…” she began.
“You know that for sure, do you?”
“If you’re suggesting beings from the future are going to materialise in this room and start, well, exploiting us, then I’d say, why would they? Even if it were possible, I mean, they’d be endangering their own present, for one thing.”
Petersen wasn’t to be fobbed off. “But they wouldn’t worry about that in an infinite multiverse, would they? They could, as you put it, exploit our universe without affecting their own at all, yes?”
“That’s an interesting point, actually,” said Max. “The calculations show that there is a possibility of…”
She cut in before he began to spell out equations to them. “I can assure you, it’s perfectly safe. Our team has been exploring the physics of this for fifteen years. Activating this machine will not allow theoretical time machines from future civilisations to, as it were, connect to our present. Now, if you’d like to gather round, I’ll show you the particular carbon atoms we plan to send. As you can see on this electron microscope, we’ve spelled out the name of the Institute…”
Ten minutes later everything was set. She’d planned a small speech, words to be immortalised. But their questioning had thrown her. There was no danger, of course. Still, she really did wish she could sit down and make a few calculations, run a few simulations. Just to be sure. But it was too late. The Institute would look ridiculous if they cancelled the demonstration in front of the world’s media. She’d look ridiculous.
“Now,” she said. “I’m afraid you won’t see much. When I activate the device, the atoms within will disappear. We’ll then have a rather boring hour to wait.”
She caught Petersen’s eye as she spoke. His eyes were narrowed, deep in thought. Was he running through the calculations in his head? It would be fine. Why did people assume the worst? They’d seen too many blockbuster sci-fi movies, that was the problem. Real science wasn’t like that. Real science was undramatic. It was long hours and tables of data. It was often, whisper it quietly, dull.
She ignored Petersen and pressed the button.
There was a moment of absolute quiet before the portals ripped open around them. Before the hordes of screaming insectoid killbots began to pour through.
About the author:
Simon Kewin is a fantasy and sci/fi writer, author of the Cloven Land fantasy trilogy, cyberpunk thriller The Genehunter, steampunk Gormenghast saga Engn, the Triple Stars sci/fi trilogy and the Office of the Witchfinder General books, published by Elsewhen Press.