I can barely see them inside because of the glare on the window, but they all look like ordinary people flying out or flying in. Ordinary people getting on with their lives, unlike me. In the window, I can see the reflection of the plane behind me, the luggage carts, the main terminal, everything out here except my own rather ordinary face. You see, I don’t have one yet.
I caught “CBS Sunday Morning” on the tube and saw the front page of “USA Today.” It’s Wednesday, 11 July 2018. If I can keep from losing my mind another ten years or so, I’ll be back, at least that’s my theory. I’m glad I’m the inventor and not a test pilot. One of them wouldn’t have a clue as to what happened.
Oh, my name is Ernie Pratt. Actually, Dr. Ernest Irving Pratt (no relation to the actor), Ph.D in Temporal Mechanics, though I never thought I’d be the one to invent a time machine, even by accident. I was working on the core of an experimental time-space drive that would manipulate a tertiary quantum realm, ultimately propelling a vessel faster than light.
My company “Superluminal” was one of a dozen outfits that the Government contracted with to develop some sort of FTL engine, fit it to a spacecraft, and run flight tests. I decided that adapting one of the large hangers at Albany International Air and Spaceport would be ideal. The experimental craft was still being built at Boeing’s Seattle division and wouldn’t arrive for another two months, and my team and I were still working out the bugs on the Pratt Drive (as opposed to Pratt & Whitney). Yes, I have something of an ego.
I’ll admit to being a workaholic and an insomniac. Between the two, they’ve cost me three marriages. That’s okay. Wife number three was right when she said that my wife and mistress is my lab. That’s why I was the only one in the facility past two in the morning. I’m glad for that. I got what I deserved for being impatient, but I’d have hated to take anyone with me.
I thought I hit upon it, a solution to that pesky little bug that kept the engine from sustained power output. I realigned the Heisenberg particle lattice to a completely new, and really quite brilliant configuration. That, and a bug I found in the initiation program (I’ll have to have a talk with Brewster when I get back in ten years), did the trick.
Well, it did a trick, but it wasn’t the rabbit I was expecting to pull out of my hat. I figured taking the P-Drive through a pre-ignition sequence to see how the particle flow regulator performed wasn’t too big of a risk. Normally, I don’t do active tests without the team present, but I was excited and probably also stupid due to lack of sleep.
I got the P-Drive to power up, and for 37 seconds, everything was humming along predictably. Then the readings went sideways, and until the overload (and I hope automatic shutdown, but by the time that should have happened I was no longer in the lab), I could barely comprehend what was happening.
And then I was someplace else, well not exactly.
It wasn’t after two in the morning anymore, and something that looked like Lindbergh’s airplane “The Spirit of Saint Louis” and with “U.S. Mail” painted on its side was rolling slowly past me on the runway. It was mid morning and it was an airport, but it definitely wasn’t the 21st century.
It could have been an airport near Albany, but maybe one that hadn’t existed for a hundred years or so. There were a couple of guys in overalls headed back toward a hanger.
“Hey. Hey wait up a minute,” I yelled as I ran after them. Maybe it was the noise of the plane engines, or they could have been deaf, but they didn’t turn around.
“I said…” I was about to say “wait a minute” but stopped when I patted one of them on the shoulder, or tried to. My hand went right through him.
I ran in front of them hoping that I was just immaterial and not invisible, but no such luck. They couldn’t see me at all (as far as I could tell by them totally ignoring me) and walked through me effortlessly.
It wasn’t just people. I could walk through walls, windows, doors, cars, planes, anything. It was like the universe around me was a hologram, or I was.
Fortunately, I was somehow oriented to the local surface of the planet, otherwise either gravity would have pulled me down to Earth’s core, or not being anchored to the Earth at all, its rotation on its axis and revolving around the Sun (and the motion of the solar system and the galaxy) would have sent me into space in a New York minute.
Happily (happiness is relative), I discovered that I never got hungry, didn’t need to breathe, or perform any other biological activity, because if I needed food and air, I was totally out of luck.
I told you I have a theory. I only had a few seconds to look at the P-Drive’s readout after the accident began, but I’ve had ninety years to think about it (being immaterial, there’s not much else I can do). All I have to do is wait to catch up with present time, my present time, and I should become material again. I’m already within my own lifetime (I was terrified that I’d end up back in my body the day I was born, but that didn’t happen. What a relief), and if I can handle the boredom ten more years, I’ll have it made…I hope.
I wrote a much shorter story for a flash fiction challenge you can read all about if you click that link. I was most of the way through this story when I remembered I had a 200 word count limit. Oops. Oh well, I had a good time writing both stories.