Derailed trains of thought
Après moi le déraillement
By Steve Dunham, copyright 2002
Dont go in there, one of the managers warned me. Its not working right, and you dont know where youll end up.
I waited till he was out of sight, then I pressed the button. I wasnt about to be fooled by such a transparent trick. I knew this had to be the time machine built by our company, which does secret work for the government. As I stood in front of the machine, a light came on and the doors opened. I boldly stepped inside. That manager probably wanted to steal all the credit for the discoveries that would result from this amazing invention. However, I too have a Secret badge, and as the doors whispered shut, I held my badge up to the scanner. It recognized my credentials, and I was on my way.
The first thing I would do, I decided, would be to correct Usama bin Ladens upbringing. I pressed the numbers 1, 9, 7, 6. That would be about right, I figured, and why not pick a patriotic date as well? Suddenly the time machine gave a lurch. I had a sensation that I was getting heavier, or that the machine was rising. It made me dizzy. As I was ready to black out, the machine lurched to a stop and the doors slid open.
Well, 1976 looked pretty much as I remembered it, and in fact not a whole lot different from today. I had overlooked one crucial detail, however: I was still in America. I needed to get to the Mideast if I was going to change world history.
Hello, Steve. I was startled to hear a voice behind me. It looked just like my co-worker Bob. What could he be doing here? Wait, this was 26 years in the past. This had to be Bobs father, who knew me when I was young.
Hi, I said, and as he walked away, I pleasantly realized that I must look pretty young for my age. As I watched him go down the hall, I saw a sign on a door: Travel Office. Thats what I needed. Confidence, they say, is the best credential, so I stepped in and announced, I need to get to Egypt.
Were not sending you to Egypt, said a woman who looked remarkably like my co-worker Susie. Its not in your budget. Now I was really sunk. Even with 26 years of reverse inflation, the money I had with me would not be worth much in 1976. Then I had an idea: I could travel into the future, cash in my retirement fund, and come back.
Entering the time machine, I felt dizzy and once again lost my balance. I fell against the control panel, and as I looked up from the floor, I saw that nearly all the numbers were lit. Oh, no! I was headed for the year 1,234,567!
When I staggered to my feet and the time machine stopped, I cautiously looked out. I saw doors made of crystal. I tried to open them, but they wouldnt budge. Then I saw a computer eye staring at me, and an electronic voice said, I do not recognize you. Now I was in trouble, and I heard someone coming. I ran down a corridor that was bathed in electric light. I saw a red glow, and then a sign: Emergency Exit. This is an emergency all right, I thought. I pushed the door open, and there was a set of stairs descending into the gloom. I took them two at a time till I reached the bottom, out of breath. There was only one door, and it led to a dark passage.
But I was not alone. I could hear something moving. The Morlocks were after me! I ran through an underground passage, certain I could hear their footsteps gaining on me; I thought I could even smell their rancid breath.
Then, around a corner, I spotted not one but four time machines! They must be common in the future, I thought. I made it inside just ahead of the Morlocks. The doors shut, and the machine gave that rising feeling again. The time machines of the future must be automatic, I decided. When the doors opened, I staggered out, and there was my boss! I was back in the 21st century! What a relief!
Where have you been? he asked.
I have just returned from over a million years in the future, I said, and he looked at me funny, the way he always does.
Then my relief evaporated, as I realized I was back in 2002 and nothing had changed. But the story doesnt end there. I have been to the future, and Im going back.Steve Dunham recently returned from a million years in the future. A cheesy motion picture is based on his adventures.
I can always count on my co-workers to stab me in the back. In the latest round of dirty office politics, they tried to convince me that my trip to the year 1,234,567 in the companys secret time machine was nothing more than a ride in the elevator. I went through something similar when the Air Force told me that the UFO that nearly kidnapped me was nothing but swamp gas or maybe the planet Venus, so I am used to having people pooh-pooh my exotic adventures. This time it was perfectly obvious that I had stumbled onto a company secret, and the only way to keep it quiet was to convince me that I hadnt seen anything at all. As usual, there was a big hole in their story. As I was leaving the office, they said, Dont forget to turn your clocks ahead. Ha! I would be going further than that. I would be turning my calendar ahead too.
There was one other clue, cleverly hidden in plain sight: one of the big bosses kept talking about getting to the future first. The company has no plans to move to Newfoundland and start each day ahead of the rest of the hemisphere. Theres only one other way to get there first.
I resolved to take another trip in the time machine, but I would do it away from prying eyes. Unfortunately I attracted some unwelcome attention by staying late. What are you still doing here? my boss asked.
The client said he needs this yesterday, I replied, and immediately wished I could take the words back.
Oh. Taking another trip in the time machine? he sneered. Fortunately he left before I could stammer out an answer.
When at last all the others had gone home, I slipped out to the hallway. The machine was still there, gleaming, waiting for me. I pressed the button, the doors slid open, and eternity beckoned. This trip would be a short one: just one day into the future to find out todays winning lotto number. I would no longer have to listen to my co-workers laughing and mockery, because after I won the lottery I wouldnt have to go to work. Besides, I would have plenty of new friends.
When the doors of the time machine closed, I started to enter tomorrows date. The buttons wouldnt light up. I pressed the door open button. Nothing happened. I was trapped. They were on to me! Did I dare use the emergency phone, or would they consider that a confession of using the company time machine without authorization?
I kept pressing buttons, and then I felt the machine give a lurch. Immediately it stopped again. I panicked. Had it lurched into the future? Was I somewhere in the past? I might be stuck in another era with a broken time machine! In desperation I picked up the emergency phone. Nothing. I pressed the red alarm button, hoping it would send an SOS across the ages. Again, nothing.
The minutes stretched into hours. I slumped to the floor and dozed off to suffer fitful nightmares. Then a sound awoke me. Someone was trying to get in! How long had I been in there? Maybe days, and who knew how far I had traveled into the future or past?
Then the doors groaned open and I saw a uniformed guard. Oh, no! Am I under arrest? I blurted out.
He just looked at me funny.
What day is this? I asked him.
Saturday. Youve been in there all night.
Longer than that! I exclaimed. Whats the date?
And the year?
He hesitated, and I was afraid he wouldnt tell me. Two thousand and two, he finally said, still looking at me funny.
Thank God, I said, and meant it. I had survived another trip in the time machine. My thirst for adventure was slaked, but not for long. I still had important discoveries to make, involving a lotto number.
Steve Dunham got to the future first.
By Steve Dunham, copyright 2001
I need that yesterday, the client growled. I was tempted to reply that he should have brought the work in earlier, but I made the polite, proper response: No problem. Come back yesterday and Ill have it for youthanks to my time machine.
Time travel seemed like such a good idea. I could sleep late, get to work at noon, travel back to 9 a.m., work till 5:30, travel back to 3:30 and leave earlyyou can see the possibilities.
Sometimes people bring work in the door at 5:30 and want it the next morning. So I go home, go to bed, sleep late, and travel back in time to the middle of the night, then do the work. When Im finished, I can go back to bed again if I feel like it.
Naturally, there are other benefits too. No longer do I send late Christmas cards or birthday presents. In fact, I can wait till the after-Christmas sales (well, I already did that) and buy things cheap, then go back a few weeks and mail everything early.
So what could be wrong with having all the time in the world? For one thing, I have to keep it a secret. An infinite amount of time isnt free if other people find an infinite number of things to fill it up. Not only clients would do this; I have to hide my time traveling from my family, and thats not easy. They would like to know why I am going to work late and coming home early, and I dare not tell them the truth. Instead I make noises about flextime and vacation days that I have to use up.
Another problem is that people get used to my doing things yesterday. The guy who growled at me had, paradoxically, already picked up his work the day before, but he had gotten used to that as his due. Now he wants everything yesterday.
Also, time traveling has made me lazy, so sometimes when somebody wants something yesterday, I say, Come back tomorrow. I can accept the work when Im not so busy, travel back two days, and still keep everybody happy. Well, not everybodytheres another problem. When I start traveling more than one day at a time, sometimes I forget whereer, whenIm going. Its confusing. One morning, I thought it was October, but I saw lit-up Christmas trees in a store window and realized Id gone too far forward in time.
Finally, theres the problem with having two of me around at the same time. How could that be a problem? you ask. I felt the same way. My wife, especially, should have been pleased: if she liked me enough to marry me and have me around all the time, wouldnt two of me be twice as nice?
Didnt you just leave for work? she will ask me.
Yes, honey. I mean, no, honey. Then she will look at me funny. Well, she always did that. Then I know its time for both of me to get out of the house and give her some space.
Now youre probably wondering why I havent traveled ahead in time and picked up a sports almanac just like in Back to the Future. Well, I did, and all I learned is that I should bet against the Redskins, but I wont get rich from it because the odds arent very long. The same goes for the Orioles.
And, you may ask, why havent I traveled back in time to save the world? Well, I have. Humbly, I admit that I could not do it alone. First, I had myself cloned, just like Dolly the sheep. Then I transported all my duplicates back to the late 1960s (I didnt want all of my copies to be in their forties; Im in my forties and dont like it). Now there are thousands of me coming into their prime, and everything will be fine with the world. Trust me.
Steve Dunham does work yesterday.
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