Then and Now (1294 Words)
“String theory is religion,” Dr. William Jennings hissed. “There is no room for atheists.”“All I asked was does it really work?”
“Would I sell it to you if it didn’t work?
George paused, and stroked the stubble on his chin. Jennings was bright, brilliant actually, but at the same time, like all geniuses, he teetered on the edge of irrationality and grandiosity. George was taking a chance. But he had no choice.
“Who would doubt the greatest theoretical physicist in the country,” George said.
William’s face softened, the tenseness eased from his forehead and jaw.
“Come, come, we need to start the process.” He led George to the egg shaped titanium ball in the corner of the warehouse. He had lost his prestigious position at Princeton six months earlier after allegations of scientific misconduct. Since he lost the job, he had been trying to sell time travel to the public. George was his first customer.
“It’s not what I expected,” George said, as he walked to the edge of the ball and placed his hand on the cool green shell. “I was kind of expecting a sled, or a car, like the movies.”
“Movies never get science right,” William said.
George sat down on the molded fiberglass chair. He squirmed to get comfortable and scrunched his face, sniffed the air. “Smells like a litter box.”
“Hawking. My cat. Went on a trip last week.”
“He get back okay?”
“She. You know cats, easily distracted. She left the delivery zone and at twenty minutes was not in the right place. Missed the trip back.” William made the statement matter of factly. As if telling George that grass was green.
“So, … Where is she?”
“Last week. The upstairs study. In the house somewhere.”
“So, she’s not coming back?”
End of conversation.
William started pushing on toggle switches and small buttons. The ball was glowing from LED gauges and George marveled at it all. He looked up and saw his reflection in the polished wall, his gray hair combed back from his face, a thin smile on his lips, highlighted from the reflection of the lights off the walls.
George couldn’t remember the last time he smiled. Just to be happy or content. Failure and disappointment stalked his every move, in work, in his relationship with his daughter. William had the antidote.
“This is the interplex spectrum monitor, measures the waves coming from the ion generator, with very little radiation, setting a harmonic resonance in your molecules and atoms. Then ‘whoosh’, to the past,” William said. He startled George by throwing up his hands.
“Now, there are a few things that you have to do, only a few, so pay attention. First, you are going to your preselected time and location. You can only go where you’ve been.” He stared at George and waited for his nod. “Second, you’ve got twenty minutes, no more. Or you’ll be like Hawking, permanently stuck in the past, which may really mess with the now. So, back to within ten feet of where you arrive, at twenty minutes for the return. The fuzz ball or black hole has a phase bend at twenty minutes and if you’re not there, well, you’re not here. Are we clear?”
“Yes. I get it,” George said.
“Now, when the frequency of the signal generator is at two a second, push the dual resonance modulator here, hold it for five seconds, and then you’ll enter the black hole. You’ll be at your destination instantaneously. Questions?”
Yeah, a million of them, and there’s not enough time or answers for them, George thought. He looked at the control panel in front of him, ran the sequence through his mind, and nodded his head.
“The package,” William said.
George looked at him. William stared back. George cocked his head.
George reached into his suede jacket he had gotten at a retro store and pulled out an envelope. William opened it and quickly counted the money.
“Have a good trip.”
He left George in the ball and sealed the door. George flipped the switches on the control panel. The signal generator started at six flashes a second, then to five, and at four a thin white mist started to fill the ball.
George had a moment of panic. What if it were all a trick? A gas to sedate him, make him think he had travelled in time. Like a sleeping pill that didn’t promote sleep, but merely made you forget how long it took to fall asleep. The generator was down to two flashes a second and he pushed the dual resonance modulator. A flash of brilliant blue light filled the ball.
The smell of pot filled the air and George looked back at Karen as they weaved between the couples on the ground. They pushed to the front of the crowd and he stood behind her, his arms wrapped around her waist. They stood, swaying to the music, and he leaned forward, and nuzzled the back of her neck, smelling her skin, and hair. He kissed her ear. She pulled tighter against him. The band finished their set and they made their way back to the blanket and picnic basket.
Karen opened the sandwiches and George poured the wine. They sat next to each other, leaning together for support. They talked of their day, and the night, and the band. George glanced at his watch, the time was running out.
“I want to talk about the job I got offered.”
Karen stiffened and pulled back from him, the warm heat of her back leaving his side. She didn’t need to say anything, she had answered.
“Karen, it’s a once in a life time opportunity for me. I get to start in at the beginning of what I think will be a great company.”
“And what do I do? Sit at home. Play house. You know how long it’s taken me to get started here. And just leave it all? Move to New York. No guarantees. For either of us.”
“Some times we just need to take a chance.
“Since when do you take chances?” she asked. Her green eyes narrowed as she stared at him.
That was George’s line. The one that he had played through his mind an infinite number of times in his life. He had rewritten it. But he was not a writer. He was a number person. Cold hard facts and calculations. Always the correct answer. But not the right one. He reached out and stroked her cheek, she tried to pull back, but the gentleness of his touch stopped her.
“It’s a chance to start new. With you. Us. Will you marry me?”
The light was an intense yellow on the trip back, he covered his eyes but it almost seared through his arm. His back hurt again as the fiberglass pushed against him. He opened his eyes, and looked at his reflection through the fog of mist in the ball.
William tapped on the door and a bell rang as the door opened, pulling the fog through it. George finally saw his reflection; he looked older, yet rested.
“Well, at least you’re smarter than Hawking.”
“Did I really leave?”
“You tell me.”
George drove home in silence. The evening was warm and still, the tires slid slightly on the rain slicked streets. He pulled into the driveway and walked to the front door. The lights were off. He fumbled the keys, none of them seemed to fit, and he tried one after another with no luck. The door opened.
“Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick about you,” Karen said as she stepped outside and kissed him, wrapping her arms around his neck. “It’s been forever.”