A Timely Lesson

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An intellectual professor invents a time machine, but will it bring the respect he desires or will it bring ruin?

Submitted: March 11, 2015

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Submitted: March 11, 2015



A blinding flash lit the small room.  A loud pop filled the air.Smells of burning and ozone made themselves known.  Wisps of cold, cloudy air rose and fell from the device.  I had done it.  I stared at the device.  I had really done it.  Was there ever any doubt I would? 


I looked at my fellow observers.  Independent witnesses.  I knew my device would work – it was designed and built by myself, so there was no possibility of failure.  But the university, unbelievably, required independent corroboration.  As if I would lie!  Yet, I was happy to have an audience.  There had been nay-sayers.  The experimental physicists in particular said it would never work.  You can’t build it, they said, because you haven’t done any experiments to prove the concept.  Proof!  The proof was in the theory.  My scientific papers were proof.  Not that I have many peers.  This was shown by the journals refusing to publish my work.  How could they publish something which they cannot understand?  I feel sorry for my detractors, being so simple-minded.  Being blinded by practical experiments rather than marvelling at my genius.How I would love to see there faces when confronted with undeniable, physical proof of my genius!  The Nobel prizes would be mine, finally.  I would surely win at least the prizes for maths and physics.  And would it not be reasonable to receive the Peace prize, also?My device can end all war.  For I have created the world’s first, genuine, working time machine.


I turned to Snowshill.  The professor of practical physics.  I beamed with pleasure.  “So!  It can’t be done, eh?” I asked.  “Didn’t you just see the device vanish and reappear five seconds later?”

He looked bemused.  His worldview was shaken. He had witnessed the impossible, and I had proven him wrong.  “Certainly I did,” he mumbled, “and what an achievement… what an achievement!”  He stared at the device.  “You’ve invented a time machine!”  He sat down on one of the cheap plastic chairs which cluttered the classroom.  They were stacked around the edges of the room to make space for the device.  It didn’t seem fitting.  This momentous occasion and he sits down on a cheap chair!  Excitedly I turned to another observer.  A young reporter, named Evans who I had called to witness this new phase of science, such that he could bring the news to the masses.

“Well, Evans, congratulations!” I grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously.  “You are certain to get the Pulitzer prize and every other journalistic award going.  Not many journalists get to witness such great advances in mankind’s power”.


He looked at me, his demeanour was not as enthusiastic as I had expected.  “That was a pretty cool trick”, he said.  A trick!  I give him the biggest story since the atom bomb – possibly the biggest story in the history of humanity – and he calls it a trick!  Well more fool me for giving this opportunity to the university’s student press.  Amateurs!  I could have convinced the broadsheets and news channels to send reporters if I only had more time.  They dismissed me as a crank, a crazy mad scientist.  I could have persuaded them, of course, but explaining advanced physics to the average layman would have been too time consuming.  Ah, the irony of not having time to explain time travel!  And so it is I come to write my own account of this historic event.


“It is no trick!” I exclaimed to Evans, who was clearly trying to antagonise me.  Even at a moment of triumph there are always those who will try to belittle greatness.  “There are no mirrors, no trapdoors here.  This is the culmination of years of dedication!”  Evans looked away from me, a strange smile on his face, almost like a smirk.  Idiot.  Well, I had other witnesses.  I turned to my three postgraduate students.  At least they, junior and unimportant as they were, were looking suitably impressed. 

“Amazing” said Shelley, a beautiful 23 year old student of mine.  She had caught my eye as soon as she entered my classroom.  I had suggested we start a relationship, but, being a level-headed and intelligent woman, she realised I would not be able to give her sufficient attention due to my researches.  Time, again, time!  Perhaps now she would realise that being with me some of the time would be better than being with someone else all of the time. 

She smiled.  “It really is an amazing proof of concept, and I’m sure you’ll be able to build a practical time machine one day”.  Clearly, she had not fully understood.  This was no proof of concept – my intellect didn’t require one.  Didn’t these people – even clever, beautiful Shelley – understand?  I took a deep breath.  Patience, patience.  How easy it is to overestimate other people.  Einstein must have felt the same way.

“My dear girl,” I said, adoptng a kindly manner and endearing smile, “this is a time machine.  It is no concept proof, but the real thing”.  I walked over to the device and pointed to a small seat in a void between banks of electronics.  “Here is where I shall sit”.  I looked around at the various faces, bemused expressions turning to comprehension.

“My God man!” Snowshill cried out, suddenly alert, “You don’t mean you are going to travel in that thing!”

“Of course.  Who else?  Do you think after all my research, all the funding applications,” the lost opportunities with Shelley, “that I would let someone else take the glory?  All the ridicule by my colleagues, who insisted it was impossible.  The newspapers who ran ‘humourous’ articles about the crazy professor.  Being told – ordered, even – by the Principal to cease and desist my research because I was bringing the University into disrepute.  No, it wasn’t enough to show them I was right.  I had to be the one to travel.  It was my right, my ultimate reward!  Would they have denied Armstrong, leader of Apollo 11, the right to set first foot on Mars?  I am the ultimate adventurer.  I can end wars, learn the secrets of the ancients, bring new technology back from the future!  They would deny me my due? I was shouting this at him.

“But,” continued Snoswhill, “you have to do more experiments, years of validation and experimentation.” I turned away from him, smiling what I hoped was a wry smile.  I winked to Shelley as I stated my reply, letting her know I knew what he was trying to do.

“No, no, no.  You are an experimentalist.  You’ve seen my work, now you want a piece of it.  Oh the research grants and papers you could publish!”  I whipped round to face him.  “No”, I said sternly, “you tried to have me ousted!  You were part of the conspiracy to stop my research.  You“ - I jabbed a finger in his direction -  “get” - more jabbing - “nothing.”  I smiled as I watched his expression, waiting for the moment of realisation to hit, waiting for him to see that it was I who had the power now, the influence, the decisions!  How stupid he will look when the public find out about my success!  He said it couldn’t happen, that I should be removed from my position.  Well, who will the University keep now, eh?


I waited.  His face remained impassive.


“But you still don’t have all the answers,” was his response.  Exasperating!  “Does it really work like you predicted?  What if there is some small detail… “ - and here he paused, for dramatic affect I assume – “… which you have overlooked?”

I decided to indulge him.  Let him dig his own grave, then, if he insists. 

“Look at the floor”, he pointed at where the device was sitting.  “There is dust on it”.

“My, my, yes, of course I’ll be denied the Nobel because I was remiss in my housekeeping” I quipped.  Was that really all he could come up with?

“There is a void in the dust.  In the shape of the device.”

I looked at it.  He was right.  And what of it?  I had presumably moved the device for some reason, when I assembled it in the room. 

“It wasn’t like that when we came in here earlier”.

I turned to Shelley.  “Well, let’s be sure to hire a maid in our house in case Snowshill gets upset with our dusting!” I said to her with a broad grin.  She looked away and didn’t reply.  Perhaps she needed time to let it sink in that we could finally be together.  That must be it.  I decided to let it pass.  “So, another demonstration, I think”. 

“You mean you’re going to travel through time?  Cool!  Where to?” asked Evans.  I hadn’t meant that I was going to start my travels now.  I told him so.

“But, didn’t you say you didn’t need to do any more proof?” he mumbled into his notepad.  Curse his impertinence.  Curse him for being right!  I couldn’t go back on what I had said.  I had to travel in the device.  I felt my heart lurch at the thought.  It suddenly seemed so real.  After all the years of theory, all the time spent building the device, all the failures and setbacks.  Now the time had come.  How little prepared I felt.  I hadn’t even considered where – when – I would go.  The future?  No, I needed to go back.  Leave some evidence that I can triumphantly retrieve when I get back to the now.  A small radiation source, perhaps, with Snowshill’s own signature written across it.  How then could he deny my success?

But when? A hundred years ago?  Would I need inoculations for smallpox?  What about the plague?Would the local accent have changed beyond my comprehension in a hundred years or so?  Goodness knows I can hardly keep up with the language of the youth of today.  No, I should stay within my own lifetime to avoid these issues.

I stood straight and made my announcement.  “Ladies and gentlemen”, I laboured the last word to let Evans and Snowshill know I thought they were anything but deserving of the nicety, “I will shortly debark for 30 years ago.  This classroom was here, and I shall leave a small radiation source somewhere it won’t be disturbed.  Snowshill, perhaps you would like to sign it?”He nodded agreement slowly.  “When I return, I shall retrieve it.  And then there can be no doubt of my success.”  A thrill of excitement washed over me, and some apprehension.  This was a new frontier and I am not adventurous by nature.  But I would not be denied my success.

Snowshill left to find a suitable radiation source and I set the controls on the device.  Shelley was quiet, sitting on one of the plastic chairs.  I saw Evans sidle over to her.  “Pretty mental, huh?  Time travel!” he slurred.  As if she didn’t know what she’d seen.

“Yeah”, she said and smiled at him.  “I never thought it could be done.”  She brushed a stray lock of hair from in front of her face, tucked it behind her ear.  Couldn’t be done?  Hadn’t she paid attention in class?  I had said it could be done and that I would be the one to do it.  I stopped fiddling and strode up to them. 

“I will return moments after leaving,” I announced, ignoring Evans.  “Then I shall take you to dinner”.  Evans stepped back a little.

“I didn’t realise.  You two are…”

“Oh, no!  We’re not, never were” Shelley replied, far too quickly.  My heart lurched.  I didn’t understand why she was saying this. 

“What on earth do you mean?” I asked, flabbergasted.  The only explanation… she wasn’t interested in me?  Never had been?  No.  It had never occurred to me.

“It’s just… well”, she stammered, “I’ve never thought of you that way.  You’re more like my… teacher.”  I didn’t know what to say.  Professors and students having relationships was nothing new, it was no barrier!

“But we had something” I managed to say.  The room was spinning around me.  How could she not feel the same way?

“I never led you on”, she said.  My face was burning bright red, I could feel.  “I tried to let you down gently, but you never took no for an answer…”  I whirled around, back to my machine.  How dare she!  How dare she!  In front of Evans, too.  How could she not love me? How could I have been so wrong?

Snowshill returned with the radiation source.  “Here it is.  Strontium 90. I’ve measured the activity to be 31.2 gigaBecquerels.  Perhaps you would like to travel back 28.8 years, one half-life, hmm? Poetic, I would say”.

“Thirty years will be fine” I snapped.  I grabbed the small pot by the handle, the weight of the lead pot taking me by surprise.  I put it on the footwell in the device.

I stopped and looked at the device’s seat, positioned in front of the control panel.  It was a classroom chair.  Cheap plastic. 

I took a breath.  Everything was ready. A wave of fear passed through me like an Arctic breeze.

What if I had made a mistake?  No, told myself, you don’t make mistakes.  A doubt remained in my mind.  Shelley.

I climbed into the device and sat on the plastic chair.  Time to get it over with.

“I will return immediately.”  I flipped the sequence of switches and pressed a large red button. 

The world is fading around me. Just as I predicted it would.  My observers are watching me, they are frozen in time as the time bubble around the device starts me on my way.  But they are skewing off to one side!  The classroom slips away and I am flying into the sky.  This wasn’t in my predictions. 

Higher and higher into the sky I go.  It is getting cold.  Inspiration strikes, as it did many times while I was developing my theories that led me here.  Einstein!  Relativity!  How could I forget such basic physics?  Everything is relative.  There is no special position in space or time.  I am not fixed to the Earth’s surface.  But the Earth travels around the Sun.  It is disappearing beneath me because it is moving around the Sun, the Sun is moving around the galaxy, and the galaxy is moving through the universe.  I am travelling in time but not in space. 

The air is leaking out of the time bubble.  I will not survive long.  Once the device arrives in time, all the air will rush out before I can reset the controls to return home.

Perhaps this account will never be found.  But if it is, you will know of my successes.

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