Breaking the Laws of Science
It had been a blustery morning in late June and after riding many miles, David stood with his hands in his pockets looking up at the towering laboratory. Purple clouds were congregating directly above and sensing that rain was imminent, David took a deep breath and threw himself against the rusted doors. A few hard shoves and the hinges flew off, releasing a warm smell of mould and dust which greeted his nose. He stepped to his alphabike and lugged its heavy mass inside the building to avoid rain damage. The laboratory at Norwich had little changed since the place was abandoned after a fire had broken out during its last months as a working establishment in 2064. The floor was dark and ripped up. Damp had taken over the building, the walls were black and the roof had large gaping cracks and gaps where the ceiling had collapsed. Heaving his alphabike to a safe, dry corner of the ground floor, David heard the growling of thunder from outside and quickly took the paper from inside his coat pocket. Scrawled on the paper in his own hand was a transcript of the message that David had received from a long lost friend the week previously. The hologram message had been distorted and fragmented, but David had distinguished a place and a date to meet amongst the incoherency. John Coleman had been an old school friend, gifted and with an unbridled passion for physics, he had always left David in the academic dust. No matter how separate their paths became as they grew up; John became a particle physicist for the British Organisation for Nuclear Research while David became a solicitor, John would always have time for David, until one day, John Coleman disappeared from the face of the earth. The holomessage that David had received only a week ago had been the first time that he had seen his friend’s face or heard his voice in over six years.
Along with a date and location, David had scribbled down what he thought may be instructions upon arriving at the laboratory. ‘Third floor down,’ he read as the stepped with much trepidation over broken floorboards and proceeded to tread carefully down a staircase descending into darkness. As he approached the third floor, his eyes were met by a dim light which became gradually brighter as he reached the floor level. In a shadowed corner of the room, he caught sight of someone moving.
“John? Is that you?”
The figure spun round, obscenely large headphones covered both sides of his head. He threw them off and made a sprint towards David.
“David! Oh my corriclopse brother, you’ve barely aged a day! I knew you’d come! Thank you!” A warm embrace met David and he smiled, reciprocating with utmost glee “Thank you for coming. Excuse this awful place.”
Once relinquished from his friend’s grasp, David realised with surprise that the white lights lit up a laboratory the size of half a football field. Test tubes, papers and an abundance of machines ranging from the tiny to the gigantic comprised the enormous work space. Behind David’s careful footsteps, John shuffled uncomfortably, fixing his gaze on his friend’s slow movements. He cleared his throat.
“Well, you’ve got a lot of explaining to do ol’ buddy,” David began. “Maybe you could start with where you’ve been for the past six years? Have you been down here?”
“I’ve been here for four years in total. I found the place shortly after BONR dismissed me from the project, and I’ve spent around four of the six years working between these walls.” He detected a look of confusion on his friend’s face. “Oh yes, they got rid of me. I understand that they told the press that I volunteered to quit after health problems. They fired me, David. They thought I was mad, and they didn’t like to be challenged.”
John began to move slowly around a desk, its wooden top invisible for scrap paper coverage, notes, scribbles, diagrams and formulaic equations were scrawled over every page. He took a deep breath.
“When we discovered the Quaxon-Beta proton, my superiors overlooked it as another simple newly found particle, its existence was appreciated, but unimportant: just another harmless component of the Quark-gluon plasma. I, I saw something more in it. I was certain that there was something that we had missed about it, something important. No one would listen to me, I didn’t have the authority to challenge what the majority had decided, so I stayed up all night, most nights, yes without permission, working with the company machines, experimenting. A few things went wrong, I may have broken equipment here and there, but they soon deemed me irrational and unreasonable, threw me out and told me to get help. I tell you, I thought it was a conspiracy. “
John began to rummage through the papers until he found a page with a large amount of equations and mathematics that no ordinary man could begin to comprehend. The numbers were accompanied by a drawing of a cube with wires and satellites and all kinds of paraphernalia attached to it. John eagerly handed the paper to David.
“John, wh’, what is all this?”
“David,” he began, his eyes overbearingly large in his pale face, “Time travel is possible. I cracked it.”
Unable to speak and unsure whether to believe, David couldn’t help but stare blankly back.
“I’ve been in this laboratory for around four years of the six because I have been dipping in and out of the past for an approximate total of two years. David, you have to believe me. I’ve done it, and I can’t tell anyone. I won’t tell anyone. It’s my discovery, I found a way because of my own stubbornness and hard labour and I intend to have some fun with it before I tell any sort of authority.”
David believed. “Y, you’ve found a way to go back in time? From messing around with that particle?” John nodded slowly and grinned.
“Let me show you the machines.” He walked ahead and motioned with a grin for David to follow him to the far corner of the laboratory where two large boxes, similar to the diagram were stood. “These are my two babies. The Proton-Flux Quaxulators, or the Time Boxes as I like to call them.”
The machines were around seven feet tall and approximately six feet wide. They were made almost entirely from some sort of platinum material, except for a glass hole which David supposed was a kind of window.
“I based the manual operative system on old science fiction books that I had read and that ancient ‘Back to the Future’ film, did you ever see that?” David shook his head, “never mind. I thought that you and I could perhaps try the machine together, have some fun in the past together. We could go back to our school years and watch ourselves, or we could go back to when our parents met, or anything you want! The possibilities are limitless!”
“What about the whole chaos theory thing.” David interrupted heavily. “What if we do something to alter the future?”
“Already considered and remedied, my friend. You see, after I had cracked the basic formulae in order to travel at the right time at the right temperature with the correct combination of protons, I worked out a way to bend body mass and consistency, a process which was easier when also bending the speed of light and time. By bending the transparency of our forms, we emerge in the chosen time zone practically invisible. It’s brilliant. In all the times I’ve gone back, I might have been seen three times. You wanna try it?” John asked, brimming with excitement.
David hesitated and glanced nervously around the room, “N, now? Do you not want a cup of tea? Reminisce on old times for a few hours before we break the laws of nature?”
“We can drink people’s hundred year old tea when we get there, and if we find somewhere noisy, no one will hear us reminiscing. Come on chum, on with this body suit.” John threw David a metallic silver jumpsuit, “Just throw it on over your clothes. No need to take off shoes. Oh, and just swallow this pill for me.”
“What on earth is that for?” David remarked as he stumbled getting his foot into the suit.
“It enables transparency. I’ll try to ensure that we materialize somewhere that we won’t be seen: it’ll take the massflexer pill a while to fully kick in. In you go, keep your feet on the markers.”
Swallowing the little blue pill, David was reluctantly pushed into the time box and watched with crippling apprehension as John fiddled with a few levers and buttons from the outside of the machine. The inside of the box also displayed buttons of a similar style to the exterior, and now a resonant beeping announced red descending numbers falling from twenty on a black screen ahead. David could only watch, paralysed with fright as John popped his pill and zipped his jumpsuit, flashed an open mouth grin and a thumbs-up before climbing into his own Time Box. When the numbers reached zero, David felt a strange sensation of electricity creeping up his spine and through his limbs, while the beeping had become a high pitched tone. He wasn’t sure whether he had initially shut his eyes deliberately or whether something external had forced him to do so, but a cold breeze licking at his neck demanded that he opened them with a start. He was lying on his side in an unfamiliar field. The smell of straw and dirt forced him to get up and regard his surroundings. He heard a groan to his left and turned to see John, heaving himself up from the ground.
“Well, another success.” he congratulated himself. “David, my boy, how are you feeling? Nauseous? Don’t worry, I did a little when I first bent the laws of physics.” He raised a finger and held it to the wind. “The year is 1999. If I have set the machines correctly, it should be December 31st and we should be somewhere on outskirts of Cambridge. I thought we could ring in the current Millennia.”
David held his head and observed the onset of night. In the distance, steeples and buildings could be seen and the red sun’s light, reflected from a church’s coloured window was fading behind the greying clouds. He checked his body, he noticed that the jumpsuit that he vaguely remembered putting on was not to be seen, and instead he looked down upon his usual attire.
“You won’t be able to see the suit.” remarked John, observing his puzzled friend, “It is there, but not as you know it. Well, I believe that the massflexer pill has kicked in. Shall we make our way to town? No one will see us, no one will hear us if we’re careful”
The two invisible time travellers made their way across the field and into the unsuspecting town of Cambridge. They caught up on old times, commented on the fashion as modelled by 20th century youths and chatted about the absolute miracle that they were currently enjoying the use of.
“You say that you’ve been seen by past people.” David began, “what happened? How did you get away with it?”
“Well, if you remember, hundreds of years ago, people were under the delusion of religion. In England, Christianity was the most popular religion, and even those who were not religious often believed in the occult.” David nodded in agreement. “Well part of the belief was that dead people could come back in a transparent form called a spectre or a ghost.”
“Oh!” gasped David, “I remember reading all about this!”
“When people thought that they saw something that they couldn’t explain, something would trigger in their brains and they would believe that they had seen a dead loved one or a ghost or a poltergeist, a semi-invisible illusion of the eye.” John’s expression darkened. “I must explain, David, that while this is fascinating, I have in fact walked into something far greater than I ever imagined.”
The two men walked unnoticeable through the crowded streets of Cambridge, abundant with people preparing to bring in the New Year. Warm taverns bustled and men swigged bottles of beer down alley ways. The cold air reeked of festivity, and while every pedestrian was wrapped in thick coats and scarves, John and David walked fairly comfortably through the icy weather in shirts and spring wear.
“When someone first saw me and interpreted my form as a ghost, I realised that it was by playing on the beliefs of the past that I would be able to easily forgive mishaps and visibility. Then it occurred to me that with my recent discovery in mind, there was no real way of distinguishing so called religious spectres of the past from potential time travellers. Throughout future ages, time travellers just like us might have forever been the materialisations of the illusions that people of the past called ‘ghosts’.”
“So ultimately,” reasoned David, “even with precautions taken, we have still altered the past in adding to a subgenre of religion.”
“We have, and while we may cause trouble for a few centuries back, science, as always will prove everything right in the end. I just wish there was some way that I could identify fellow time folk. In my travels, I haven’t yet seen anyone transparent or suspicious looking. Perhaps we will develop time travel further, so that future beings can materialise completely undetectable. I guess I have no choice but to share my findings; the fate of my discovery has been decided in my own hypothesis.”
John sighed and looked up at the city clock. It was five to twelve, and people seemed to storm the streets. The scene had become almost unbearably loud. David scrunched up his face in discomfort at being in the center of the noisy, inebriated masses. John grabbed hold of David’s arm.
“We depart at two minutes past twelve! Hold your ground and try to appreciate the moment!” John shouted over the murmur of the crowd.
In eternal tradition, as the seconds ticked down, the people of Cambridge counted down in unison. “SIX, FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE, HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Fireworks began to explode over the rooftops of the surrounding buildings and groups of people gathered together to sing songs and hold each other. The streets were filled with a undeniable aura of good cheer and merriment as music played from the open windows, making the cold night feel that little less bitter. John eyed up a large frothy pint of lager which was being passed around a circle of men.
“I wouldn’t mind one of those when we get back.” He glanced up at the clock, observing the hands inching closer to two minutes past. “…Which should be right about now, my friend. Are you ready?”
David nodded hesitantly as the people bustled around them. He was certain that if he was to scream, no one would hear him within the madness. David watched as the clock hand reached the top, and again the familiar chill of electricity rushed down his spine. A fade of white met his closing eyes as his limbs began to feel heavier, as though the flesh was expanding in his skin. A mild but sharp pain flew through his body, shooting through the skull momentarily, and when he came to open his eyes, David was met by the dim lights of the laboratory and the buttons fixed on the inside of the Proton-Flux Quaxulators. Upon stumbling out of the machine, he noticed with a light head that the silver jumpsuit had become visible once again, and he went about removing it, nearly falling in the process. Leaning on the Time Box while holding his head, David suddenly became very aware of the stillness of the laboratory, the absence of noise, the unmoved dust filtering the air. Focussing his vision, he cupped his hands, regarding the dimly lit counterpart machine only to find that his searching eyes were met by no friendly comforting face, no body or limbs coming to life within the space of the box, John was not there.