“The Temporal Event Indicator’s lighting up. Looks like we have another trip in our near future.”
“Or our far past, Josue.”
Wyatt Ellison walked over next to where his partner Josue Hunter was gazing down at the screen of the Indicator. It actually wasn’t a screen in a conventional sense. Both men were looking at a holographic projection inside a spherical depression about the size of a bowling ball (and they were among a very small group who still knew what a bowling ball was) set in a table top.
“The Sky Disc of Nebra, Hunter mused. “We can’t actually let these two morons find it.”
“That’s our job. Suppress revolutionary discoveries that would take the course of this time line on a different trajectory, Josue.”
“I’ve got the replica in the Vault, Wyatt.”
“My replica, actually. Took me four days to construct it hoping that someday, the event would show up on the Indicator so we could open a portal and commit another act of substitution.”
“As usual, we’ll go back about a month before the actual event and replace the artifact with our duplicate.”
“Which will be revealed to be a hoax, Josue. Another time anomaly averted.”
Josue Hunter stepped away from the Indicator and walked over to the vault room. It wasn’t accurately named since the Vault didn’t have any sort of door, and inside, it looked more like a warehouse of the weird, containing a most bizarre collection of deceptively ancient objects ever assembled, all of which were absolutely worthless.
It took him several minutes to locate the ersatz “Sky Disc.”
Meanwhile, Wyatt went to the other side of the room and activated the Time Portal apparatus, upon which he had taped a piece of cardboard with the words “Wayback Machine” painted on it in black acrylic. Even though Josue was an expert historian, Wyatt still had to explain to him why it was funny.
Josue rejoined his friend by the Wayback carrying the disc. “We’ll arrive at night, so no special costuming or language augmentation will be required. Just pop back, bury the disc, bring back the original, and no one’s the wiser.”
“Got it, Wyatt. Ready when you are.”
“Timer’s set for five seconds.” Wyatt released the controls and both of them stepped into what looked to be a plain, metal ring standing on end. It began to hum and then glow and then…
…a prehistoric hill fort near the east German town of Nebra in 1999.
Josue pulled his small unitool out of his jacket pocket and set the device to scanner mode. “No one within miles.”
Wyatt donned his night vision glasses, a real artifact they’d retrieved from the past, and from another pocket, pulled his own unitool out, and then used it to detect the exact location of the true Sky Disc.
He switched the tool to its digging function and carefully used the beam to create a shallow depression, unearthing the Disc. He then quickly took the genuine article, replaced it with the fake (after wiping it of fingerprints and DNA), and had the unitool put the dirt back in the hole and age the immediate site so next month, those two amateur metal detectors would never know their find was so recently placed there.
“Done, Josue. Now when it’s discovered in a month, they’ll really think this is a 3,600 year old, Bronze Age archaeological find and try to sell it.”
“That is, until they’re exposed by Professor Peter Schauer of Regensburg University as frauds.”
The air around them started to hum and a faint ring of light surrounded Hunter and Ellison.
“Time to go home.”
The air inside the ring shimmered and then they, the glow, and the hum were gone.
Back in the Wayback Lab.
“I’ll power down the portal, Josue. You take the artifact to the Antiquities Store.”
Like the Vault, the Antiquities Store was misnamed. It wasn’t a store in the sense that anything there was sold. Everything it contained was priceless. It was located in the basement beneath the lab, and unlike the Vault, everything was carefully placed and cataloged under the highest security (although the rules were often relaxed for Historians like Hunter and Ellison).
The Store was the world’s largest, in fact the world’s only repository of authentic archeological, scientific, and other finds that the general public could never find out about, either in the past or the present. Each find had to be declared a hoax in the historical period of its discovery in order to prevent humanity from knowing of a rather lengthy list of earth shattering events and discoveries so profound that the course of time would immutably be altered if revealed.
Imagine how mankind would react if they knew that alien beings from another planet (actually the sixth planet orbiting Tau Ceti) helped build the Egyptian pyramids and the Sphinx. Or how about if they discovered that there was a lost continent of Atlantis buried over a mile beneath the floor of the Atlantic Ocean?
The Sky Disc of Nebra hoax was child’s play compared to some of the more magnificent jobs Hunter and Ellison had pulled off.
No one would ever know how five TBM Avenger bombers disappeared while on a training mission off the coast of Florida on the 5th of December, 1945. They made a magnificent display in the Antiquities Store and even Hunter’s and Ellison’s security clearance level didn’t allow them to know what had become of the pilots.
“I can’t believe it, Wyatt. This is…astonishing.”
“The Indicator doesn’t lie. We have a previously unknown temporal event in England, specifically the Royal College of Science in 1885. It’s an actual, temporal incursion, Josue.”
Both men were bent over the Indicator, their faces almost entering its holographic field.
“Time travel. Someone made a time machine in 1885.”
“This will take a hell of a lot of research. All of the other events we’ve investigated and changed were known to history. This one has always been thought of as science fiction.”
“Oh crap, Josue. Of course. H.G. Wells was a student at the Royal College. He must have known the inventor and used that information as the basis of his famous 1895 novel The Time Machine.”
“Don’t forget the earlier short story he published in his school’s paper in 1888, The Chronic Argonauts.”
“Someone in freaking 1885 invented a time machine. How come we didn’t know about it before this and why are we finding out now?”
“Because, my dear Wyatt, someone is going to discover it under a residence in Richmond, Surrey in…1966.”
“But that means it was always discovered in 1966, and we should always have known about it. All we really wait for is to detect the event on the Indicator, which gives us the precise temporal coordinates so we can focus the Wayback on the event, and then substitute real artifacts and other objects with our fakes.”
“It doesn’t matter at this point, Wyatt. If we allow a real time machine to be found by…let’s see, construction workers who are digging up the site so a new home can be built on those grounds, the world will know about practical time travel.”
“Josue, we really need to go back to 1885 or even earlier to stop it from being invented.”
“We can’t. From this data, it looks like the invention and initial use of the device is part of our actual history. If it didn’t happen, then Wells wouldn’t write his novel and all hell would break loose.”
“I can’t detect anything regarding the time machine between its use in 1885 and 86 and its discovery in 1966. Where was it all this time?”
“Probably right where it will be found in 1966. We’ve never tried to find a time machine before. It may remain hidden from the Indicator until it reaches a discovery point.”
“That means that son of a bitch Wells knew practical time travel was not only possible but that it actually occurred. His “Time Traveler” character was based on a real scientist.”
“Never mind all that, Wyatt. We’ve only got access to the Time Machine in 1966 and only one chance to make the substitution. According to these readings, it’s discovered the morning of Thursday, September 1st. I’m setting the Indicator to find it a month before, in late July or early August. We’ll need precise readings if we are to make a credible fake for those workers to uncover.”
Josue was adjusting the Indicator’s controls to shift slightly further back in time. The readings settled on Tuesday, August 2nd. While he worked, Wyatt stared into space and not the Indicator.
“What a find. What a magnificent addition to the Antiquities Store. The prototype 19th century Time Machine.”
“Wyatt, I’m feeding the data to your Design Console. Wyatt? Hey!”
Josue stood up and shook Wyatt by his shoulder. “Wake up.”
“Oh, uh, sorry, Josue. I was just lost in thought.”
Josue had heard of this before. It was called the “Artifact Effect.” Occasionally, a Historian would come across the discovery he or she had always wanted to make. In Wyatt’s case, it’s an actual ancient time machine, something no one thought really ever existed.
Now that it does, it’s got Wyatt hooked.
“Pull yourself together, man. We’ve got work to do.”
“Yes, of course. You’re right.”
Wyatt turned, walked over to the Design Console, sat down, and looked at the preliminary findings. Then he cross-referenced them against the required tools and materials to create what was once called a “cheap knockoff” of the original.
Fortunately, it didn’t have to be as precise as the design of a real Time Machine.
“It’ll take nearly two weeks to print the replica and probably an hour to replace it for the original in 1966.”
“Unfortunately, it’s in a heavily populated area, so we’ll have to use the Stealth equipment so we can work unobserved.”
11:47 p.m. local time, Sunday, August 14th, 1966, Richmond, Surrey. If there had been anyone looking at the property, they would have seen nothing. The humming and glow that typically indicated the use of the Wayback was suppressed by the Stealth field. Hunter and Ellison and their equipment were there, but they might as well have been invisible.
“I’ve got the macro unitool in place and focused on the Time Machine, Josue.”
“Good, I’ve just brought your fake through. Focus the other lens on the construct. We can do the exchange without disturbing the soil at all.”
“It’s just like you said. The machine is in some sort of protective covering. Must come from some point in the future, since its chemical composition doesn’t match any materials available in 1966 anywhere on the planet.”
“Let’s beam it out, Scotty.”
“Hardy, har, har, Josue.” Wyatt knew Historians made the worse puns involving the past. He’d dropped some beauties in his day.
Hunter and Ellison stepped clear of both lenses, the first aimed at the location of the actual Time Machine and the other at it’s near replica. Then Wyatt activated the unit. The flashing of both lenses and accompanying whirring sounds were perceptible only to the two time travelers.
On the sidewalk meters away, an older man walking his small dog was aware of nothing except the passing of an occasional car and the sound of crickets.
The transfer took several minutes for the sake of not disrupting any of the delicate circuits of the actual device.
Once the process was complete, the macro unitool automatically powered down. Night vision glasses let them both see in the near darkness as they secured their equipment.
“I’ll go through with the Time Machine, Wyatt. You come after me with the macro.”
“Right.” Wyatt was secretly jealous that Josue was accompanying the Time Machine back to their time, but he’d taken enough kidding from his partner over the past several weeks about his fascination with the device. No use giving him new material to work from.
The familiar humming and faint glow of the upright ring, which is the time portal’s manifestation in the past, took Hunter and the machine away. Then it was Wyatt’s turn. Grasping the macro unitool, the larger analog to their hand-held devices, he heard the hum and then saw the faint light surrounding them. And then 1966 was absent of time travelers again, save for one strange replica of a long-forgotten mechanism secretly constructed in the far-flung future.
“Just what the hell are you doing, Wyatt?”
“What does it look like I’m doing. I’m sitting in the Time Machine.”
“And the Antiquities Store guards are letting you breach protocol? You could get sent out for two weeks rehabilitation for even an unauthorized touch.”
“Enid’s on duty this morning. She owed me a favor and agreed to step out for a few minutes.”
“Okay, so I won’t report this, but why are you sitting in the object of your obsession, or did I just answer my own question?”
“Look at this.”
Josue almost climbed into the second seat of the device to get a better look at the controls, and then thought better of it. He didn’t want to be Wyatt’s roommate at the rehab center.
“It looks like our mysterious Time Traveler made incremental trips further and further into the future on his initial voyage.”
Josue leaned into the machine as far as he could without touching it. “You’re right. He left 1885 on January 4th, a Sunday.”
“Then, he stopped for a few minutes each in 1905 and 1925, and then it gets interesting.”
“The Time Traveler stops in 1940, but he stays a week, from August 31st to September 7th. Does September 7th ring a bell, Josue?”
Hunter pondered the question for several seconds and then the proverbial light bulb (ancient device providing illumination in homes and businesses) went off over his head.
“The Blitz,” he declared with a snap of his fingers. “The German bombings of London.”
“Right. For 57 consecutive nights, Nazi bombers relentlessly hammered London, killing 32,000 civilians and injuring 87,000.”
“Of course the Time Traveler wouldn’t have known anything about that. I wonder why he stayed there so long?”
“He probably left when the bombing started, but you’re right, Josue. Why stay a week in a place and time 55 years in his future. He’d have no currency, be dressed in the wrong clothes, he’d stick out like Jimmy Durante’s nose.”
Wyatt looked back down at the control panel readouts which were amazingly advanced for the late 19th century.
“After that, he takes bigger leaps by hundreds and then thousands of years.”
“Wells’ novel says the Traveler’s ultimate destination was 802,701 converting to the old A.D. calendar system.”
“He never made it that far, Josue. The furthest he got was April 2nd, 8885. 7,000 years into his future.”
“Well beyond our time. I wonder what he found up there?”
“We may never know. We can only travel back, not forward from our present.”
“I wonder if he left a journal or log of some kind?” Josue found himself getting caught up in the adventure right along with Wyatt.
“He didn’t return to his time in a single trip. He stopped in 2015 for a day, then 1960, and finally, get this, Tuesday, August 13th, 1946.”
“The day H.G. Wells died. Coincidence?”
“You call yourself a Historian and still believe in coincidence, Josue?”
“How long did he stay?”
“Four days, then he returned to 1885, just a few hours after he left.”
“Wait. Didn’t the Indicator record that the machine was used in 1885 and 1886? How many more trips did he take.”
“I was waiting to tell you that part. I think he took several, but the logs are blank. There’s no record of them in the machine.”
“If he wanted to cover his tracks, why not blank all the logs? Why leave the record of his first trip intact?”
“I don’t know. Clues, maybe. If he thought his machine would be found someday, maybe he wanted to leave clues to see if future time travelers could find him.”
“Excuse me. Are you two quite through. I’ve had a terrible time reprogramming the security monitors to not see you here.”
“Oh, hi, Enid.”
“Consider us even, Wyatt. I’ve more than paid off my debt to you.”
Wyatt climbed out of the machine while Josue wondered what sort of favor a beautiful young woman like her could owe a middle-aged, slightly overweight, and distinctly unattractive veteran bachelor like Ellison.
Wyatt and Josue walked back to the Wayback lab and once inside, Ellison took the unusual action of locking the doors, then adjusting the security monitoring device. Hunter was surprised to see that he didn’t actually disable the system, just sent false data into it depicting the pair going through their typical activities.
“What? Wait! Oh crap, you can’t mean…”
Josue stared at his partner, tracking him across the room as Wyatt walked over to the Indicator.
“Yes, that’s right. We’re going to find him. We’re going to find the Time Traveler.”
“Because he’s the ultimate temporal anomaly. I think he didn’t stay in 1886 after his last trip. I think he went into his future and stayed there. Something about his week-long sojourn in 1940, then his visits to 2015, 1960, and particularly 1948…they stink to high heaven, and the smell tells me he had a very compelling reason to stay in the future.”
“Like Wells’ Time Traveler in the novel.”
“Right. I examined the Machine. It’s got a timer on the activation controls. He could have been at some future time from 1886, set the controls back to the point of departure, got out of the machine, and a few seconds later, poof. The machine is gone and he’s stuck in the future.”
“You mean he’s not alone. Like Wells’ character, he met someone, a woman.”
“We have to find them, Josue. This could be a disaster. If he did fall in love with a woman and decided to build a life with her, probably some time after 1940, if they started having children…”
“There could be a whole population of his progeny living among us today who should never have been born.”
“Our time line has been polluted for centuries and we never knew about it until now. We have no choice but to find the Time Traveler at whatever point in history he ended up in and stop him anyway we can.”
I had intended to write a short, lighthearted tale of two time “adjustment” officers who go up and down history, taking away dangerous archeological artifacts and replacing them with obvious fakes.
I found a list of 10 fake archaeological finds at Mental Floss and started there.
I didn’t know where I was headed with the story as I was writing, but then the idea that the H.G. Wells Time Machine could be based on an actual invention struck me.
It’s not an uncommon idea. The 1979 film Time After Time starring Malcolm McDowell (as H.G. Wells), David Warner, and Mary Steenburgen suggested that Wells himself invented the Time Machine and had to use it to chase Jack the Ripper to modern San Francisco to stop him.
As ideas unfolded during my composing the original draft, I got the idea of my mysterious Time Traveler meeting a woman in the future and falling in love. He couldn’t take her back to 1886 (the year he last uses his machine). She’d be totally out of time. Of course, he’d also be an anachronism at any future date. So perhaps they mutually selected a new year or era to make home.
As I was writing, I realized this story was going to get pretty long, so I decided to make it into a two-parter (for now…maybe it will spawn an even longer story series), so this is part one.
I also need time to flesh things out a bit, so I’m ending here on a cliffhanger. Even if Hunter and Ellison can find the Time Traveler and the woman from his future, how can they stop him short of killing him?
Part two of the adventure is In Search of the Time Traveler.