Half Past Never

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Approximately one hundred years in the future, three scientists are about to step into history-quite literally, as they are set to become the first to travel through time. Their mission is to journey into the future in order to evaluate social progress, however they are going to bend the rules a bit, agreeing that they shall visit a location in the past where each shall retrieve an object of personal historical significance, but not so significant as to alter the course of history. Despite their best efforts, they tamper with the space time continuum, altering the future in ways they never could have imagined. Their travels take them from the Prehistoric Era to the Library of Alexandria in Ancient Egypt, the signing of Magna Carta in Medieval England, and the Battle of Yorktown at the climax of the American Revolution, a 1908 Chicago Cubs World Series game, and a frightening future in this adventure

Half Past Never

By Ryan Patrick Funk


“Have you ever stopped to look up at the stars at night, to marvel at the wonders of the universe that are here all around us, from the heavens to the Earth?” Otto Seidel asks his colleague.

Watching the sand sift inside of his hourglass grain by grain, the eyes of Chauncey Studebaker transition towards Seidel, who remains affixed to the window.

“That poetic outburst of yours takes me back to memories of my dog, on his last day alive here on this Earth. Disease had blinded him of his sight, but it could not steal his vision, which remained as clear and intact as ever. Something was in the air that day, a gorgeous, June afternoon with nary a cloud in the sky. He sat comfortably on the soft grass, basked in the warmth of the sunshine, and enjoyed the refreshing caress of the summer wind. He knew what was to come, and he was at peace, with these marvels you speak of,” replies Studebaker in a most elegant fashion.

“Trifle difficult to fathom that the eve is upon us, tomorrow is the day at long last. Alas, I am ready to throw caution to the wind and assume the risk of whatever possibilities await us, limitless as they may be. This may seem comical given our vocational backgrounds and experience, however, technological awakening and age of knowledge aside, the firm grasp of the concept of time still eludes me, as if I can draw no nearer to it than its shadow. The past...is it playing continuously in a loop like a record, similar to one long recording? A mirror image, a reflection, an echo, just maybe,” explains Seidel, eliciting one final lesson in philosophical geometry for the evening. “Tomorrow we shall learn the truth for ourselves, as we stand in a world that is following a script written by the Gods of pre-destined, pre-ordained fate.”

In the somewhat distant future we find a world not too distant from that of our own back home in the twenty first century. A world ripe with trials and tribulations, innovations and inventions, and many admirable developments, including a most curious one among them--time travel, an art that has been worked down to a science following extensive research and development.

Three men at the top of their respective professions, each a master of a specific discipline, are about to venture one hundred years into the future in order to conduct a governmental assessment of what is to come. However, these men are not robots affixed with metallic machinery that conduct an operation on command. Rather they are only human of the familiar flesh and blood variety, and as such they plan to take the scenic route to get there, a detour off the beaten track, which will take them down the road less traveled, bending the primary principles of time and physics and stepping into the past.

More trials and tribulations are to come, as these plundering pioneers take one giant, forward leap for all mankind, by taking a step backward. This is the goal of theirs in the meantime, wherever, and whenever that may be...

The greatest gift bestowed upon one fortunate and privileged enough to see through time is the direct vision into time itself. A laser-like focus of x-ray vision, although not of the prepubescent adolescent brand of sexual perversion, but rather a lens capable of penetrating into the heart, mind, and soul of the person, place or things calibrated. That is not to say that the hands of corruption find themselves restrained from grasping hold of the science. Abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, subject matter dirtied with political mudslinging from all sides, all pales in comparison in terms of the moral and ethical implications and dilemmas associated with time travel.

Among the three participants selected to cast the cosmic sails were Geophysical Engineer Dr. Chauncey Studebaker, a mild mannered thirty-four year old family man with wavy blonde hair and hazel eyes. Studebaker was generally soft spoken, although he was the type that would often open up, expressing himself in the company of friends and associates that had gained his trust.

Joining him was a colleague that had no issues conveying his thoughts, Quantum Resonance expert Dr. Otto Seidel, a thirty-year-old dark haired jack-of-all-trades and master of all of them. Serving as the unofficial spokesmen for the crew, his outlandish unfiltered personality made him the antithesis of Studebaker.

Rounding out the group at the center of it all was the commander of the mission, the one whom had envisioned the project from the outset, Astrophysicist Dr. Elgin Lincoln. A sixty-year-old grandfather, Lincoln possessed a kind heart and gentle personality to go along with a firm passion and devotion to his work, he was a portly man with a soft set of curly white hair resisting his balding head lacking in hair yet overflowing in knowledge.

The three enjoyed first-class top-flight executive positions of acclaim, careers that had brought them immense power and fabulous wealth along their professional journeys. They were among the wisest and most trustworthy governmental employees working in the rich field of scientifically advanced clandestine endeavors.

Be that as it may, where faith ends the risk of such foul, forbidden crimes such as treason and espionage begin, just as it has in the past with spies and double agents penetrating the most secretive and lucrative of operations, among them the Manhattan Project. Conversely, the three time travelers had no such ulterior motive or traitorous intentions, aside from skirting procedure in order to scratch the surface of the technological capabilities before them while simultaneously striking the summit of their individual imaginations and expanding the horizon of their knowledge.

Before the rise of the curtain at the start of the maiden voyage, each of the men conjures up a brief vision of what is to come. Envisioning bright spotlights emitting a brilliant shine as the three noble participants enter the facility to a rousing, illustrious ovation worthy for a championship prizefighter, the thoughts of Chauncey Studebaker are interrupted as the commanding officer of the mission, Dr. Elgin Lincoln, requests a word in private with his colleagues.

“Gentlemen, allow me to address a few matters before the commencement of our waltz through the ages. As the three most senior professionals involved in project Falcon, we have been bestowed with the opportunity of a lifetime, and cherish each moment of it we shall. As the commanding officer of this mission, apart from our scheduled itinerary, it is within my authority and discretion to dictate our time coordinates as I deem fit.”

Lincoln pauses momentarily as Seidel and Studebaker await the words to come, mesmerized with the magnetism and poise displayed by his speech, an oration nothing short of presidential in its stature.

“We have each been allocated a sum of fifty million dollars for our research and contributions towards Project Falcon, and therefore overtures of prosperity, riches and other forms of financial gain are not of necessity on this trip. To reiterate one further item, caution will be taken to the utmost degree with all we choose to do and see. The three of us would be well advised to discuss and reject any and all notions of social equity and injustice. Attach the cape to our attire and play the role of hero we shall not.

“Murder the Chancellor of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler perhaps? Albeit lacking in originality, the concept may be vastly noble in theory until one examines the inevitable wrinkles and unintended consequences and unwanted side effects produced thereafter. Destroying someone of such magnitude, and/or altering an historical event creates ramifications we could not begin to dare dream about and comprehend, such stresses the limits of the human imagination, as vast as those possibilities allow. “If Hitler is killed at an earlier point in time, perhaps a successor or alternate leader seizes power and murders seven million Jewish people. Perhaps postwar Germany is weakened resulting in a stronger Soviet Union, leading to Stalin murdering tens of millions more, and the establishment of a Communist state throughout Central Europe leading to an inevitable Cold War turning nuclear, the result of which not only threatens the existence of the three of us and the program but advanced civilization and even humanity itself.”

Removing his glasses carefully and taking a seat, Lincoln emits a more subtle and personal tone. “Now, I do not mean to patronize the two of you or belittle your intentions nor your wisdom, it is just that what we are about to embark upon is far from a simulation or a concept in a textbook, and it is best that the three of us remain on the same page, despite the fact that we will be God knows where, in terms of time and space.

“The possibilities are infinite. Regarding our hypothetical with the millions dead as we know them, save them in our alternate timeline, and millions more fade from existence given the natural course of time as the legions of born and unborn swap places. You save innocent people but in the process you plant the seeds for corrupt masses who will resort to murder, extortion, larceny, who will in turn eliminate thousands if not millions of people who otherwise would have lived, and you are responsible for their deaths and suffering, the three of us would be.

“In such a world millions fail to emigrate to this nation or meet, fall in love, procreate, and there is a real profound chance that this impacts the three of us in some random, inconceivable manner. Funny, if such an event were to arise, it may take all the time in the world to ascertain the point of departure from the world as we know it, and we would posses the only machine in the world capable of solving a most difficult equation. Stands a good chance that we would still lack the ability to solve the riddle.

“One last item. Now, I have always been one to advise against adultery, but visiting an erotic dance club will not destroy a marriage in and of its self. The same theory holds true for our quest. While the regulations, guidelines, boilerplate language and instructions were written by wise individuals, those individuals are not traveling along with us. Abstaining from utilizing this gift to further our knowledge and appreciation of history would be equivalent to committing colossal waste. In accordance with what we have agreed to, each of us will choose one location in the past or present to visit, provided we abide by the promise not to alter the natural course of history to a substantial degree, until we have completed our mission and obtained a greater appreciation and foundation in the finer aspects of time travel. Do you both understand and accept these terms and conditions?” asks Lincoln.

“Affirmative sir,” replies Studebaker.

“Usque ad mortem,” exclaims Seidel.

“Gentlemen, let’s make history,” boasts Lincoln as the three march towards their mission.

The ovation received is far from the grandiose spectacle Studebaker had projected, winding up as more of a subdued clap reminiscent of a professional golfing event. There is no sold out arena, rather a small collection of scientists and field operatives in one of many governmental research facilities in the District of Columbia.

Just as early television offered a picture in black and white as opposed to colorized and digitalized, or the earliest computers were housed in entire rooms and crawled at a snails pace in comparison to the lightning fast modern versions that are no less powerful than the human brain and no larger than a peanut, the same degree of growth evolved with time travel. Like most any other of these technological mediums, early time travel was primitive as well, and involved cautious experimentation with inanimate, stationary objects.

The critical moment arrived during the 2090s, as researchers became able to harness the power of the wormhole courtesy of years of space exploration, astro-mining and advanced particle data analysis, enabling them to bend time and space. Over the years, the costs became somewhat less restrictive although still quite far from efficient, as the requisite level of power and energy became more readily worthy of control, allowing for the implementation of successful human experimentation. As alluded to in the opening speech of Dr. Lincoln, the government research was dubbed Project Falcon.

As for the time machine itself, the device was cloaked with many secrets developed over the years, several of them obtained from the cosmos. Massive amounts of energy were produced from fractional particles of anti-matter, a technology that became harnessed in an effective manner during the 2080s. The reaction enabled the power and surge necessary for the functioning of a portable wormhole apparatus. In tribute, it was titled the “Wonder Worm,” a nickname Otto Seidel categorized as “most platitudinous.”The inside design of the ship consisted of several computer screens, a one-way window, time input coordinates in order to effectuate the time of the destination so desired, and latitude and longitude coordinates in order to plot the location of the destination so desired given the Earth’s rotation. Two large turquoise conduction tubes were constructed for energy production, with a shiny blue tiled floor with blotches of red, green, and yellow, as if it were dipped in a rainbow. The swanky pattern was the result of a fevered push to add color and style to the interior of the machine that contrasted sharply with its exterior.

Regarding the outside, it resembled arguably the last item one might proffer a time machine to resemble-—which was precisely the point during the phase of design. Of all the aesthetic and auditory criteria taken under advisement, drawing attention comprised the caboose in the chronology of this locomotive. Therefore, the machine flew and operated with the silence of a passing cloud, and resembled a tree, which had been deemed the most inconspicuous object possible, in order to avoid clear cut or any apparent detection of something out of the ordinary. As a matter of fact, the machine was specially adapted to conform its appearance to the most abundant species of tree native to the particular area, within size restrictions and limitations. The machine was also equipped with sensory technology to ensure the machine appeared so as to avoid detection from any human beings in the vicinity, as well as to avoid simultaneous placement with another object upon arrival.

Following the equivalent of a ribbon cutting ceremony in the form of a tender, photographic moment showcasing the time travelers placing their keys against the machine to open up the apparatus, the three enter the Wonder Worm preparing for departure.

“After we cast our cosmic sails, we will return five minutes from now, of course we have all the time we could ever ask for to return to that agreed upon moment. Have you two decided where you would like to go?” asks Lincoln.

“Yorktown, 1781. To witness the dramatic end of the American Revolution and the birth of the nation, among the most significant moments in all of history, one that I can hardly dare dream of witnessing first hand,” explains Studebaker, as the two turn to Seidel.

“Growing up enamored with world history and fascinated with the law, there was but one scene from history that I’ve wished to see more than all others, the signing of Magna Carta on the outskirts of London in 1215. Historians nowadays believe that there were dozens of copies distributed in the aftermath of the ceremony, to retrieve an heirloom of such historical significance, I can hardly imagine,” declares Seidel.

Completing reference check with all systems a go and in the proper balance, Dr. Lincoln commences the time traveling procedure. To viewers inside of the machine transfixed at what sights await them through the windshield, the perspective shows life rewinding, as if time is drawing backwards, as the Earth begins to spin slowly, growing faster in a motion of rapid ascension. The sun rises and descends, as does the moon, as the stars appear to circumnavigate the sky, a celestial dance that harmonizes into a blinding light given the speed of the machine.

“Is the compass set to our destination one hundred years in the future, 2215?” asks Studebaker.

“I was under the impression we would first partake in the fruits of our labor?” asks Seidel.

“As ambassadors of democracy, I shall cast the deciding ballot on this issue. Following years of research, preparation, and above all suspense, I am of the opinion that we should kick up our heels a bit and set aside professional obligations for personal ambitions,” cites Lincoln. The decision was one to have been expected, as one cannot expect to place a gun in the hands of a child and subsequently expect said child to read the corresponding safety manual before departing to find something to shoot. Nor could one believe that insider trading does not occur within circles of affluent white-collar professionals at passive-aggressive cocktail parties and on the stressful tranquility of the golf course.

The Project Falcon obligation amounted to merely taking this Wonder Worm into the future for measures deemed appropriate and beneficial to both the government and society as a whole. Integrity and signed contracts aside, only a naïve mind would believe that any human of flesh and blood would abstain from using the insatiable power at their disposal for forbidden matters. A tracking system was constructed inside of the Wonder Worm, but any such system of surveillance is only as effective relative to the programming skills of those under the surveillance and their ability to override them—-in this case, the tracking devices were null and void.

“Where in time have you selected, Dr. Lincoln? Studebaker asks as the three await the ride reaching its climax.

“My choice was not finalized until this morning, after deciding to sleep on it last night, where I encountered two dreams that helped shape my focus,” explains Lincoln while drifting his thoughts back towards the previous night, his daydreams shifting into his night dreams.

“In the first, the three of us ventured back to a time long before the arrival of mankind back when our world was dominated by arguably the most successful and longest reigning of champions crowned atop the food chain. Yes, the dinosaurs, the mammoth classification of larger than life reptiles, representing and staggering the imaginations of nearly every boy since their discovery.“In my dream the prehistoric era of choice was the Jurassic, the reason being for its rich cannon of recognizable plant and animal life. As the Wonder Worm weaved its way through the sands of time, we were greeted with the light green and orange hue of a much younger atmosphere and his cousin, the sun-drenched gold of the horizon, looking precisely as I remembered it. The scenery may have appeared like a dreamscape or a distant planet in another galaxy, yet this was the Earth, only it was dressed in imagery so different as to struggle my grasp upon that very fact, as well as my concentration on our whereabouts. 150 million years tends to have that effect. Choosing our destination carefully, our cautious planning enabled us to avoid the Tyrannosaurus Rex and other threatening carnivores. The first creature we spotted from atop the tall trees and plants, that seemed to stretch endlessly upwards into the sky, was an unmistakable flight of a Pterodactyl, a firsthand observation and identification by twenty-second century men that proved the undying popularity of this extinct sector of the animal kingdom.

“The biggest surprise of all lay in the form of the plant life, numerous, rich and vibrant, the likes of which I nor any other human most likely had never before seen. It were as if we were strolling through the Garden of Eden, or through a field previously soaked with radiation, or bathed in an extraterrestrial fertilizer. In accordance with the brilliant foundation set by the plant kingdom, the animal life proved its sensational valor and reputation as well; for the three of us were flanked by unknown and unseen creatures that feared our presence. They must have lacked the sensory capabilities to sense the fear we exhibited, although perhaps evolution had not yet reached that stage by this juncture.

“A stegosaurus calmly nibbled on some shrubs roughly one hundred yards afar, completely ignoring our presence. However, it was the Brontosaurus, marching through the trees that drew my attention more than anything else. The thrill of viewing the exquisite grace and gallantry of this creature was everything I envisioned this journey would be. At that moment I was not an aging scientist, or an educated adult. At that moment, I was a child again, watching in amazement of the wonders all around us, or at least which resided here at one point in time, a distant memory reduced to the fossil record but brought back to life thanks to the magic of technology.

“Alas, the great negative and downside of this selected location involved the presence of mosquitos and associated airborne parasites so terrifying in appearance as to warrant an honorary doctorate in science fiction lore. With the onslaught of these dastardly fiends, we retreated back to the Wonder Worm, where my thoughts focused on my newfound appreciation for some organisms that fell victim to extinction.

“There were four corresponding reasons indicating why such a prehistoric venture did not amount to a wise choice for visitation. Firstly, the substantial degree of untold, unfounded, and unknown risks littered about, whether consisting of animals with an exploratory taste for flesh, toxic plants, poisonous parasites, or blood born pathogens, bacteria, and viruses the likes of which human kind has never dealt with. Second, the further one trapezes backwards along the timeline the greater the likelihood of dramatic ramifications further on down the line. Forget killing one figure of history, wading down this path could prove consequential to the development and existence of the human species altogether, directly or indirectly, such as by inadvertently aiding an ancestor or rival, say the Homo erectus. “Third, one must take into account the risks of a fatal flaw in the manufacturing or design of the worm. It would be awful being stuck merely one hundred years ago in the primitive twenty-first century, much less being stuck in the prehistoric era. Therefore, it would be wise to select locales that would at the very least involve intelligent civilization in the event of fatal mechanical failure rendering us prisoners in the past.

“Fourth, any acceptable remnant or artifact, if one does so exist from the period, has escaped my mind. A souvenir is a most needed requirement regardless of where we go, along with our cherished memories,” concluded Dr. Lincoln.

“What did the second aspect of your dream entail?” asks a curious Seidel.

“A journey to the Renaissance, the moment in history when the conscience and understanding of society graduated from the adolescent rank of teenager and entered adulthood. The thought of traveling to the bustling cities of Rome, Venice, Paris, and Zurich, ripe with change and new ideas, the likes of which would transform our world forever, paced my mind. Imagine interacting and rubbing elbows with the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, William Shakesphere, Ferdinand Magellan, Michaelangelo, Adrian Willaert, and so many more. As you both know, partaking in such discourse, despite the revolutionary and stimulating nation therein, would also embody a depraved heart evincing reckless behavior. For instance, if one or more leading minds of the day were interrupted in their work, many of the ideas encapsulated with the Renaissance could just as easily cease to be, leaving us as serfs in a twenty-second century that remains engulfed in feudalism.

“Ramifications so dramatic would render our destinies frozen in place given such a restrictive setting, much like the poverty-stricken third world that labored deep into the twenty-first century. Conversely, sharing with the representatives from past cultures the fruits of our progress and secrets of future innovation that dare yet not be revealed could very well seriously distort the technological progress of mankind, sparking off a chain of events playing out like a stack of falling dominoes crushing our existence in the world and rendering our way of life in the twenty-second century more akin to how it would look decades or perhaps even centuries later,” explains Dr. Lincoln.

Just then the outside light fades from view and the motion of the time machine desists, slowly coming to a rest as the machine has arrived at its first destination.

“I must ask then, what did you choose as your location of choice? What may we expect to see as we open this doorway?” asks Seidel.

“We made it, we’re here!” states Studebaker, excited and anxious and daunted all at once.

“Not exactly, we’re at my home, five days in the past. I have to grab something we are going to need to bring in order for us to blend in,” describes Lincoln, returning minutes later with three flowing white robes as the ship is set in motion, taking off again...

Emerging from the Wonder Worm, the three begin casting their eyes from the relenting sun and scorching heat roasting down on them from above and rising up from the sweltering sand. Leading the way is Dr. Lincoln, playing his oratory skills like a well-tuned instrument, or to be more appropriate given the journey, playing them like a well-oiled machine.

“As for my paramount selection, a place of historical significance was of the utmost importance, along with the ease of retrieving an artifact for future admiration. Above all, a location was needed where the possibility of our ramifications leading to cataclysmic consequences, although never entirely expunged from chance, would be sufficiently mitigated. My winning ticket in the lottery of time travel consists of a satisfying and refreshing well of knowledge, the African cousin of the Babylonian House of Wisdom. A profound establishment that will allow us to pick the brains of scholars, artists, philosophers, playwrights, a collection of some of the most brilliant minds of the ancient world, whose compilations contributed both to the world as we know it, and the world that was never meant to be.

“The three of us have ventured back into the land of ancient Egypt, two hundred years B.C., to visit the eighth wonder of the ancient world. One of the most culturally influential empires in the history of civilization also housed the collective of the entirety of the wisdom and knowledge acquired of the ancient world, the astounding, magnificent, and beautiful structure standing before us, the Library of Alexandria. The Greek tradition is often cited and praised for its impact on the educational and university structures that predominate higher learning in western culture, and rightly so, however the Egyptians rightfully deserve credit for their impact as well. Hell, I went so far as to name my daughter after the mystical centerpiece of study,” explains Dr. Lincoln.

Proceeding to climb the stoic steps of stone, the three are set to officially begin the experience, gaining entry to an entrance center complete with bronze pillars, marble floors, and decorated with dazzling works of art, from elegant paintings to elaborate sculptures. An embarrassment of riches, this fabled, library of grandeur lives up to legend, a true showcasing of the wealth and power of ancient Egypt.

The entryway is abuzz with a flurry of activity, and privileged with the presence of an audience of intellectual elites and curious minds, the three tourists receive at worst looks of confusion, given their demeanor and unknown language. The vast archive proves quantifiably ginormous indeed, as Lincoln and company begin combing the hallowed halls of antiquity, scanning through various scrolls among the thousands, or at least attempting to in good faith given the monumental language and linguistic barriers.

“In a perfect world I would be infused with the ability to borrow, or purchase a volume of this papyrus potpourri. Taking into consideration our less than desired circumstances, I find myself breaching commandment and common law alike,” declares Dr. Lincoln.

With nobody in range of this particular column of scrolls, Elgin Lincoln places a single scroll inside of his robe, lifting a piece of history.

“Great thing about the past, there is no camera security system. Try nabbing a book today from the Library of Congress or the Smithsonian,” quips Seidel.

 “Maybe so, but back in our time they wouldn’t commit the common law crime of mayhem against perpetrators by maim of limb,” remarks Studebaker.

A scroll to be translated at a future time, the identity of such could prove to be long lost play, poem, or epic from one of the legends. It could possibly be a work of medicinal, legal, or engineering brilliance, or maybe just a recipe for an alcoholic beverage. The feeling of anticipation would be the best part for Dr. Elgin Lincoln, not unlike a child shaking a Christmas present still hidden inside its wrapping, waiting for that moment of discovery. A priceless artifact to be certain, which could yield untold future and present dividends, yet in the process would serve as a deprivation toward another for the opportunity for enlightenment. That is, if the scroll contained sufficiently intelligent information in the first place. Then again, the three reasoned, there were thousands of scrolls still available for absorption waiting to be had, with many more to come.

After spending an hour inside this temple doomed to be forever lost, Lincoln’s thoughts turn to preservation of the crown jewel of Africa. Preventing the destruction of this cathedral of knowledge would hardly be in the range of logical thought taking into accord two prohibitions. One, the library was burned many times throughout the ages, the first time allegedly by Julius Caesar during Roman conquest. Two, had the structure somehow remained intact, there always lay dormant the possibility that the modern standing of technology back home could instantaneously transform to be a few thousand years more advanced beyond the capacity wherein it currently stands, as opposed to decades or centuries had the seeds of change been planted during a later age such as the Renaissance.

“Taking whatever precautions or preventative measures to somehow save this bastion of knowledge is simply out of the question. Even if we were able to find a way to pull off such an unthinkable challenge, such an outcome would instantaneously negate our mission, our usefulness, and our livelihoods,” explains Seidel.

“Come on Elgin,” remarks Studebaker, blanketing a reassuring sensation of warmth and compassion onto Lincoln, still intently watching the library as if he is watching the Titanic set sail from Liverpool. Remaining motionless and prolonging one last cast in preliminary memorial knowing what is to come is Dr. Lincoln, unable to draw his focus and thought away from the library, a premature ghost of a structure, the wealth of priceless knowledge within doomed for tragedy...

“Put up your shields gents, things are about to get medieval. Next stop, old England, 1215, to witness the signing of a peace treaty nine hundred years ago, one ripe with far reaching ramifications the likes of which even the King could never have anticipated or begun to appreciate,” declares Seidel.

Whereas the weather of Alexandria was searing in scale, the temperature of this place was blissful to the touch as opposed to blistering, as emerging from the Wonder Worm the three are greeted to a calming, euphoric serenity that resembles paradise. Rolling green meadows stretched far and wide meeting the peaceful border of the light blue sky naked from the clouds, and whether gentle or gusty, the kiss of the wind felt elegant nonetheless, this was summer, summer in a place that was far from this setting throughout the majority of the year, making the spectacle of the month of June all the more cherished.

Runnymede was the spot, a slice of nature that appeared as though it had been carved out of a fantasy book, nestled right along the Thames, a river as voluminous in history as it was in water content. Located kilometers outside of London they had arrived, several dozen of them congregating under a makeshift construction of rustic lumber and thick cloth, resembling what we would characterize as a picnic in the park, perhaps a Founders Day event, which is appropriate considering what was taking place.

Making their way towards the gathered mass of nobles, the three are somewhat surprised with how close they are able to draw near to the ceremony, swiftly learning how history is devoid of auditors demanding identity and authorization, or painstakingly scrutinizing against inaccuracies. Standing alongside the others in their flowing white robes, the three were somewhat astonished at how well they blended in with the others in attendance. Was it because styles in clothing and fashion were slow to change? Was it because his loyal guard surrounded the King from a quantity of rivals already in the audience, and the era preceded the introduction of the gun, much less its widespread adoption? Perhaps nobody was particularly concerned; after all there were very important matters to attend to and regardless the proclamation would be scattered throughout the land.

Among the members in attendance were a legion of the King’s barons on one side, dressed in a colorful assortment of robes and period attire of the Middle Ages, and King John of England and his advisors on the other, separated by his royal guard and several bishops cloaked in red and brown, joined by other less prominent holy men.

Triumphant trumpets blaring through the air as the barons readied themselves for the moment, awaiting the actions of the King and bowing down in his presence, watching on proudly as he sat majestically upon a leather throne. Clutching the fabled document in one hand while submerging in a small pool of ink his foot long swan quill before recording his signature guaranteeing the rights of millions and changing the course of history in both the Old World and the New World yet to be discovered by Europeans (aside from Viking conquest), the crowd erupted in a congratulatory adulation of clapping and praise, served both upon the king and upon themselves. Most of us today believe this is a rough estimation depicting the moment steeped in history, but Otto Seidel and friends were experiencing a very different scene playing out before them, being reminded of how history is often romanticized, polished and touched up like a portrait, meticulously dusted of the less desirable attributes of humanity and simmered in a pot inflated with the picturesque and grandiose.

In reality the three travelers partake in a ceremony not nearly as celebratory as even the three astute students of the ages would have envisioned, finding a far more contentious scene erupting all around them. At the center of it all sat the languished King John on a simple wooden chair, a man most fortunate to possess royal blood given the protruding eyes and ragged, curly brown hair and beard of his ugly physique—-although the red velvet robe and crown encrusted gold did help make up for his shoddy appearance.

The barons were no friend to the King and his henchmen, surrounding them with little regard for the elaborate collection of swords, spears, and shields, at their disposal.

“What are they saying, I can’t understand a word? It’s all muffled and strained, extremely gruff to the ear,” whispers Studebaker to Seidel, listening as the barons appeared demanding things left and right, their shouts scattered near and far throughout the crowd, periodically coming together in unison.

“Keep in mind these are the noble classes, they spoke Norman French at this time in history, Middle English is understood, but mainly among the peasants. Wouldn’t be spoken by the nobility for another century or so,” explains Seidel.

Resembling more of an underground, no holds barred political debate as opposed to a formal, official ceremony concluding an arduous conflict between the King and his barons, the three kept their mouths closed and their ears and eyes open at the history playing out before them. The mercurial King John looked exhausted and distressed, occasionally replying to the inventory of remarks as one particular baron, dressed in a blue and white tunic and the only one that happened to be clean-shaven, began pointing repeatedly at the document presented before the king.

At long last silence fell upon the gathered masses as the King regrettably and inevitably affixed his royal seal composed of beeswax and resin to the bottom of the parchment document inked in Latin, officially signing the Great Charter affectionately becoming known as the Magna Carta. Pure conjecture on their part due to their lack of fluency in Norman French, our three listened as arguments continued making rounds for another twenty minutes, before one of the Kings men hastily removed several sheets of parchment containing handwritten copies of the agreement ready to be distributed to the barons and Bishops congregating in Runnymede.

Standing among the crowd between a Bishop and a baron stood Otto Seidel, as the royal clerks meandered throughout the gathering, handing out copies of the sacred parchment like newspapers on a street corner. Hands shaking in anticipation as he receives an official copy, Seidel departs the scene with his colleagues and the other barons and Bishops, each entrusted with a copy as they scatter about from which they came to share the news of the day.

There were no jesters frolicking about, no entertainment of any kind, no bountiful feast of exotic foods from near and far, after-party or no raising of swords in celebration. Rightfully so for these men in attendance that would die with their ashes destined to dust long before the sweet taste of the fruits of what transpired before them could be enjoyed by the masses.

“King John was a corrupt tyrant of a ruler, but perhaps no more so than his adversaries standing before us today. They represented the nobility, but their actions were far from completely noble in themselves. Neither group would uphold their side of the bargain, as John would travel to the Vatican to annul the agreement, the Barons likewise breaking their obligations agreed upon under the contract,” explains Seidel.

“Sad fact of life really, for even during humanities greatest moments and most profound written achievements, often times they do not come barren of asterisks or loopholes. Our American Declaration of Independence embodying that all men are created equal, only initially consisting of white men holding property, and consisting of that for far too long. The Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in the Confederacy, turning a blind eye by and large to the finer points of such a bold announcement, most especially those slaves residing in the Border States. Magna Carta served as the granddaddy of each of those descendants that were to follow, and sure enough it was annulled, cancelled, ignored, rejected, put on ice and roasted over a fire for many years, and that is just taking into account the barons. For commoners, peasants rummaging the fields and villages, the language of this document might as well have been transcribed on another planet, as it was intended for a different world as far as they were concerned,” declares Lincoln.

“What is amazing is how you just never know what decisions we make out of the hundreds each day and millions over the years will wind up having the most profound effect on our lives and the lives of those around us. It’s not always the vital decisions that prove being the biggest deals years later. Likewise, it is remarkable how time has a way of cleaning up the dirt from our memories, as in general we fondly remember the finer points of nostalgia as opposed to the less desirable attributes. I thank God for that,” declares Studebaker.

“To think of the revolutionary ideas held here in my hands. Granted, there were rumors that this was a sequel of sorts to an ancient text from the Anglo-Saxons that was suppressed during the Norman Conquest of 1066. Henry Ford did not invent the automobile but through the innovations of his mind and assembly line he had arguably the greatest impact on its history. The Beatles did not invent popular music, but with their creativity and artistic craftsmanship they perfected it and changed the world forever,” explains Seidel.

“Magna Carta...despite witnessing the less refined aspects of the ceremony, I’m still one to look back and remember that moment with the recollection of a bolt of lightning casting down from the heavens and sealing the formal agreement, to think that a group of rebels were able to sign with the crown a peace treaty overflowing with rights. A document of parchment and ink written in a dead language, but between the lines giving birth to concepts that would change and shape our world forever, limiting the far reaching power of the King and State and providing due process rights to the individual. This myriad of goodness includes protections of the church, rights against false imprisonment, illegal taxation, fines and other payments, habeas corpus, the right to a jury trial, the concept of how justice shall be swift and is not to be sold, among countless other doctrines outlined in her sixty plus clauses. Crafting legal principles and the bedrock of jurisprudence that would serve as the inspiration for a little get together in 1776, and a little Bill of Rights dotted in Amendments. This may not have been the beginning of it all, but it was the starting point, and the reverberations of that thundering document are still felt echoing the ground we walk on today. There exists in the universe no greater embodiment symbolizing the struggle and battle of the human spirit, as well as this sample of sheepskin parchment in my hand. Historians would dissent, but in my humble view this was the day when Medievalism would begin its slow descent into death, for the Renaissance was born right here, in June of 1215,” proclaims Seidel as the three reach the Wonder Worm.

“I’ve got to say, people must enjoyed far superior vision during these Middle Ages, forget being transcribed in Latin, I couldn’t even read it if the print was of standard size and not as miniscule as the lines of a sheet of loose-leaf paper, jokes Seidel.

Inputting the proper data into the computer machine is Chauncey Studebaker, as the scenery transitions into the third leg of the journey.

“As we rise together with this colonial sunrise, let us take a moment, to reflect upon all this day represents. Having been graced with the gift of being born into this country, it is only fitting that today we witness the beginning of it all. The triumphant hour when freedom and liberty, revolutionary not in idea, but in degree, devotion and desire, delivered a devastating blow to tyranny and oppression, and in the process changing the fate of the world. Wars would be fought to defend the fruits of this glory in the successive decades and centuries, from foreign and domestic enemy alike. This was the final battle in the war that achieved victory, and had these brave men not spilled their blood fighting the crown to the death, those later days of glory would never have occurred. Now it is time to witness the third and final round of the past, having departed from the dawn of one war and the dusk of another. Gentlemen, welcome to Yorktown,” proclaims Studebaker.

The crisp cut of the autumn air and its mellow aromas cascaded throughout the valley playing host to the free and the brave. The articles of capitulations were taking place on this morning, as the British, the most powerful military force and empire in the world during the late stages of the eighteenth century, had been defeated and forced into surrender.

“At this point in history, the losing side often wished to march away with dignity and offering tribute to their conquerors, which the British had requested. General Washington rejected this notion, after the British had denied the Americans the same request in a preceding battle,” explains Studebaker.

“Karma,” replies Seidel.

“Such a glorious scene, as luck would have it, I find myself afflicted with a severe headache,” describes Lincoln.

“Must be that music,” remarks Seidel.

“The legends are true! While lacking a musical ear for effective deciphering, if I am not mistaken, the British drummers and musicians are playing ‘The World Turned Upside Down’. Quite the metaphor for the impact of this date,” declares Studebaker as the three men stand tall and proud beside each other watching from afar as a brisk gust of wind blows by, it’s cold touch no match for the warmth of patriotism burning deep within.

Next came the ceremonial surrender, as the three moved down for a better view, initially reluctant to enter what had been a war zone but now joined by a mass of civilians that had gathered. True to the historical descriptions, the victorious Americans aligned on one side in a rugged row of white and grey, while the defeated British stood in a row of red across the way, looking proper and professional yet forlorn and vanquished. “Cornwallis refused to shake the hand of Washington,” describes Studebaker.

British Brigadier General Charles O’Hara had been granted custody of Cornwallis’ sword, walking gracefully yet swiftly towards French General Rochambeau, who refused acceptance of the sabre, pointing his way down the line at General Washington. Washington likewise declines to hold the symbol of victory, motioning towards Benjamin Lincoln, as Studebaker broadcasts the play by play to his colleagues as if narrating an historical reenactment, only calling it live as it happens.

“Any relation?” asks Seidel to Elgin Lincoln.

“Not to my knowledge, I regret to inform you. It is curious that the sword is an unwanted artifact,” replies Lincoln as Benjamin Lincoln offers the sword back to O’Hara. Studebaker looks on at the prized possession, an artifact he desperately desires to obtain, and has spoken to his colleagues about many a time.

With a loud roar, the Americans begin celebrating as the British troops lay down their arms before beginning their solemn retreat. Lincoln, Seidel and Studebaker cannot help but partake in the celebratory and emotional aftermath with revelers and soldiers blending in with the crowd quite well, if only momentarily, as there is business to be accomplished.

Following the British back to their stronghold, the three plot their larcenous scheme of action.

“How do we retrieve this sword without falling by the hand of it?” asks Lincoln.

“Brought along a pistol for protection, in the event danger may impend itself upon us,” replies Seidel.

“I have an idea, after all, it is I wishing to obtain the sword,” recites Studebaker to his partners in crime. “May be a little crude, but what the hell. If it doesn’t work we can always return and start over, try something new. That worm is the great eraser after all, a mighty mulligan if ever there was one.”

“General O’Hara,” shouts Studebaker with the boom of a cannon, causing the British General to stop and cast his gaze to the traveler moments before retreating into the mansion housing Cornwallis.

“My name is Lieutenant Studebaker, the three of us were sent from General Washington with orders to retrieve the sword of surrender.”

With a look of disgust sewn upon his face, O’Hara grunts before placing the sword on the ground, as he and his henchmen disappear into the mansion.

“This is it,” gasps Studebaker racing towards the sword that had been discarded on the ground like an object of shame, a true testament of how one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Here it was, the sword of surrender, a superbly crafted, brass based sabre that glimmered and reflected the golden shine of the sunlight pouring down upon America and the world for that matter. A sacred weapon, and perhaps the second most historical artifact in American history save only for the Declaration of Independence, the sword of liberty that symbolized the very independence written of five years earlier. “This is a beautiful moment,” explains Studebaker, after having captured the legendary sword. “Best wind up in the possession of a true Yankee, as opposed to ending up as a remorseful scourge to some redcoat descendant.”

As the three make their way back through the slow march of British troops and towards the time machine, Dr. Lincoln requests a break. “Gents, I am in dire need of a brief recess period. My head is pounding, and I am feeling quite feverish and ill,” he asks, scratching his arm.

The moment of triumph turns to terror as the three notice a batch of small, red pustules scattered throughout Lincoln’s arm. “Hives? Some type of allergy?” asks a hopeful Studebaker.

“Damned if I know for sure, but this looks like chickenpox, if we’re lucky, if we’re unlucky...it could be the other variety of pox. The smaller but deadlier version, and I’m not talking about the Cowpox,” explains Seidel.

“Smallpox? This soon? We were in Egypt for the equivalent of only several hours, and in Medieval London for even less time, the incubation period and onset of symptoms lack any logic or reason whatsoever,” explains Studebaker.

“Correction, we were in Ancient Egypt, not to mention The Middle Ages, it could be another strain or form of Smallpox or any other infectious disease that, that, we may be in the dark about,” offers Lincoln, struggling to speak clearly. “The time acceleration may have played a role in the hastening of the viral effects. This was an unanticipated occurrence, and there has been no such medical testing or analysis on the subject. Not to mention the fact that I am the unfortunate owner of a lackluster immune system.”

“Here is what we are going to do, you sit right here and relax, we will return to the Worm, venture to the future, and return with us a medical professional in order to diagnose and cure whatever the hell this illness is,” declares Seidel.

“Leave him behind, here? Just look at his condition!” cries Studebaker.

“It is all right,” reveals Lincoln in a reassuring manner. “I could not possibly risk contaminating the two of you, I am likely contagious, and it is only appropriate that I quarantine myself for the time being. Just make sure that you return one minute from the present. Go now, and Godspeed,” utters Lincoln.

Returning to the ship, Otto Seidel sets to work plotting the coordinates for an unplanned fourth leg of the journey.

“Fear not, we’ll return with a serum that will liquidate every last undead strain of the virus in his bloodstream,” exclaims Seidel.

“Be that as it may, he is suffering with each passing moment, let us return in due haste,” an exasperated Studebaker beckons.

“While your good intentions are not wasted on me, remind yourself that we have a time machine, we can return one minute after we departed. Besides, the fun is merely beginning; my sweet tooth is chomping at the bit to take a bite out of the pie cooling on the windowsill for my tastes. Now without further ado, the next stop, 1938 Munich,” declares Seidel.

“What? No!” demands Studebaker.

“Chauncey, why should each of us be restricted to but one stop on the timeline? My family bloodline has a very proud legacy, although there happens to be one blotch on our permanent record, as roughly half of my ancestors left Germany just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Among them was my great, great, whatever, Grandfather, who abandoned his homestead along with a precious eighteenth century painting, escaping that totalitarian land but leaving the painting intact, into the plundering hands of the Nazis. My ancestors who remained lost everything. This heirloom is steeped with an economic value of maybe a few million, while the sentimental value of it is priceless. This painting, this relic, is the Holy Grail for the Seidel family tree. Now if you would be so kind as accompany me, than I shall return the favor,” asks Seidel.

“One stop for each of us! That was the agreement! Besides Elgin is sick, where is your compassion?” asks Studebaker. “After all, how can you be so certain that we should visit the home of a relative at any point in time, there is always the risk that your relatives are still inside, interaction with them could be catastrophic.”

“So I suppose stealing a scroll from the cerebral jackpot of antiquity, and a sword from the Revolutionary War were more calculated risks? Lay down your shield and thrust your weapon, what is your malfunction here Chauncey, enough of your high horse, holier than thou demeanor,” demands Seidel.

“You’re right, please accept my apology for that rush to judgment. The two of us, we just are yet to concur thus far on this mission. At first I requested we complete our assignment, only to be outvoted. Next you demanded that we travel to Nazi Germany before helping a friend, while I opined to seek assistance for Elgin,” replies Studebaker in a passive-aggressive manner.

“Fine. We’ll take care of Lincoln this instant,” replies Seidel, regrettably inputting a separate set of coordinates as not a word is uttered from Studebaker for the length of the voyage.

“Yes, it was just a painting, but a magnificent work of art it was. Can only imagine how I would be able to feel the spirit of my ancestors alive and well gazing upon the admirable craftsmanship of its beauty, title ‘Sonnenaufgang auf dem Rhein,’ translating into ‘Sunshine on the Rhine,’ and featuring the calm, crystal clear waters of the Rhine as the morning sun begins its ascent above the Black Forest of Bavaria. Suffice to say, the only crystals that would be in the vicinity of Munich in the weeks to come would be the shattered glass of Krystalnacht, accompanying the nations descent into madness that would condemn millions to death.

“Your family, were they Jewish?” asks Studebaker.

“My great-great, again, whatever grandmother was. In the journals, he described the change in the conditions there, well, here. Grandpa was a World War I Veteran, he was a successful architect, and he was as blonde haired and blue eyed as any Aryan poster child. Yet he was not on board with the intricate ways of the old party, which alone threatened his wealth and status. Throw his marriage into the equation with a woman who came from a Jewish family and it was enough to sign his death warrant. His heart belonged to her as opposed to the state, how could it not?” asks Seidel.

“We have arrived. You know, just thinking about what it must have been like, seeing a swastika emblazoned on the red banners of cinema and television and history makes me shake my head in sadness before thinking of the people, as you only fathom what was to become of their lives under the toxic days that were to follow. The self destructive policies of the Third Reich, to think that they transformed a weary land into a nation of wealth, prosperity and Industrial Might only to poison it with levels of barbarism deviant enough to make a caveman blush, striking up the deadliest war in the history of the world and murdering millions of innocent people for no valid reason, as if there ever is a valid reason,” explains Studebaker.

“Atrocities had been committed, but had they only stopped while they were ahead, before things became dramatically worse for everyone involved. The library of Alexandria burning, Magna Carta placed on the shelf, war and revolution in America, in Europe, everywhere. Not only in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, but in the later portions of the twenty-first century, including right here, in what had been among the most prosperous nations on Earth, yet humanity still showcased itself primal brutality, perhaps this is the way it is always going to be,” proclaims Studebaker in a solemn manner, opening the time machine door.

“Now, the time has come for us to visit 1965, in order to draw from the maximum quantity of smallpox medication,” snaps Seidel growing weary of the increasing anxiety exhibited by his colleague.

“Center for Disease Control? Any specific medical facility?” asks Studebaker.

“Just follow me,” quips Seidel as the two step outside of the Wonder Worm.

“The design of the residential neighborhoods, the design of the automobiles, this is not 1965, where have you brought us?” demands Studebaker.

“Are you to tell me this does not look familiar to you old boy? How about 828 Lakefront Drive?” Seidel asks.

“My grandparents old cottage...my God, what year is this?” remarks Studebaker.

“Forgive me, my math is not quite accurate, the year is 2065 Anno Domini, and we are in Toledo, Ohio, now ring the bell,” demands Seidel drawing the pistol from his jacket.

“I can nary fathom what trick you have placed up your sleeve,” cautiously declares Studebaker.

“You just happen to be at the top of my international, inter-generational hit list. Next on the agenda is Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot,” Seidel exclaims sarcastically.

“Mad with delusion as you are, your thought process is hardly that dysfunctional, tell me the truth,” demands Studebaker. 

“Very well. Today we shall conduct an experiment, to finally discover the truth of a riddle that has bothered myself for years. Why, you will go down in the history books as a martyr, difficult to top that is it not?” asks Seidel.

“What is this all about, I don’t understand,” responds Studebaker, growing apprehensive.

“This is all about a complex little matter called the Grandfather paradox,” describes Seidel.

“Yes?” Asks the man answering the door.

“Just one problem, that man is not my grandfather,” cries Studebaker.

“We’ll just see what happens, get in,” demands Seidel.

“Grandfather? No solicitors!” barks the homeowner before freezing in place at the sight of Otto’s pistol.

“I’m afraid I have to insist,” replies Seidel as the two enter the home, walking into the den. Wasting no time, Otto Seidel fires the trigger, shooting the man in the chest, the grandfather clutching his heart and bellowing a muffled scream of pain.

“Grandpa Don!” cries Studebaker, sliding to his knees in an ill-fated attempt to save his relative.

“You fool, you will not have any memory of this callous deed, negating my existence will preclude you from having journeyed here!” cries Studebaker.

“Take all the time you need old man,” Seidel chuckles as he turns his gaze to the younger Studebaker. “Just what shall I do without you Chauncey, await the arrival at Plymouth Rock in 1620 and proclaim this land is accounted for? Or maybe venture back to some 1880s countryside village in the nation of Georgia and just slap a young Josef Stalin in the face, bombarding him with the wrath of twenty million?” laughs Seidel.

“So quick to disgrace the mission and heed Lincoln’s warning about playing the hero, doing as you please in such a reckless display of needless murder!” declares Studebaker, choking back the tears.

“Despite the fact that 

everyone grows up wishing to save the world, much like the comic superheroes and action figures of their youth, I have always been one to prefer playing the part of the villain,” exclaims Seidel, a line he delivers while flashing a devious stare at his colleague hunched over in peril.

As the gasping of the bullet stricken man subsides, breathing his closing breath, Dr. Chauncey Studebaker vanishes into thin air. It had worked, as the fabric of time had been tampered with indeed, Seidel was amazed with the results as he looked over the dead body of the old man. Problem was, it did not play out quite as he drew it out, for the calculations and projections were well off, the conclusion failing to match the hypothesis and theory he had envisioned. Had this experiment been entered as a science fair exhibit, the expert in Quantum Resonance would likely receive but an average grade for his trouble.

Submitted: April 27, 2015

© Copyright 2023 Ryan Funk. All rights reserved.

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