THE TIME IDIOT
(2011) - a novel by A.R.Yngve - Sample Chapters
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Project Yesterday was housed in an artificial cave deep beneath Test Site F. It had served as a storage bunker during the Cold War. Endless concrete catacombs stretched out in all directions from the central facility.
A chief scientist and a general drove President Prescott Walker and Vice President Zack Cutter through the cave complex in two electric golf carts.
"That the time machine?" asked Prescott, and pointed to a yellow sports car with some intricate machinery mounted on its rear. It stood parked in a corner among a pile of boxes.
"No," said Professor Calvin Moh, who was driving. He was a short, bearded man with a pockmarked face. "That's a prototype car we worked on. Runs on completely clean, cheap fuel - it could save the American automobile industry."
"Okay," said Prescott, "so when do I get to buy one?"
"When the U.S. Army has decided whether the car might harm our oil industry."
Prescott turned and glanced at the parked vehicle as it passed them by.
"Looks kinda old..."
"It's from 1976."
Behind them rolled the cart driven by the obese Army General Whopping, with Zack Cutter in the passenger seat. Both carts came to a stop by a brightly lit chamber made of tall smoked panes.
Inside the transparent chamber stood the time machine prototype, surrounded by computers and measuring equipment; cables littered the floor, and a soft hum came from a nearby generator.
Prescott stepped off the cart and stepped up to the glass wall to have a look.
The time pod rested on a very large inflatable mattress, and measured about 19 feet across. It was shaped roughly like a sphere; several lumps with holes littered its metal surface.
"What are those lumps?" he asked.
The professor stepped off the cart. "They contain airbags, to soften the impact of a landing. It's all on automatic. The pod's made so that an idiot could use it. Let me show you the inside."
Moh unlocked the chamber with a key card and entered; the others followed behind.
"But it's so small," Prescott said when he saw the pod up close. "Where do you put the atomic fuel?"
Moh explained: "This time machine doesn't need fuel. The energy which causes the cosmic expansion to accelerate also produces power - limitless power! - for running the machine."
Moh talked at length about how the time pod worked, but Prescott couldn't follow all the big words and complicated reasoning. Never mind the science, he thought, does it work?
"Have you taken any trips through time with this thing? Seen history, met Abraham Lincoln, stuff like that?"
General Whopping, coming up behind them, sounded shocked: "Absolutely not! We have only experimented with sending clocks and animals back and forth in time. And, uh, Professor Moh here has tested it twice."
"And they came back alive?" asked Prescott. "The animals, I mean."
"Almost no time passes inside the pod while you travel," said the general.
"So... you'll travel almost anywhere?"
"Actually," said Moh, "the pod has several limitations."
"I thought it sounded too good to be true," the President said.
Zack Cutter grabbed Prescott's arm with unusual urgency. "Please listen to the man, Mr. President. This is a matter of the gravest importance!"
Moh led them up to the pod and touched its shell.
"This baby started as an experiment in unusual waste disposal. The initial idea was to dump the Army's garbage and expired ordnance into another dimension. But instead we stumbled upon one of Mother Nature's secrets..."
He made a theatrical pause and waited for them to ask.
"Get to the point," said Cutter. "Show him how it works."
Moh reached for the pod's circular hatch and unscrewed the lock, as he continued talking. "Time isn't one dimension - it's two. Which makes it possible to hop sideways in time, past the flow of time's arrow, and arrive anywhere."
He opened the hatch and let the President peek inside. Thick padding covered the interior walls of the sphere, and Prescott saw an illuminated control panel with two small screens.
"Through careful tests with animals and autopilots, we have established the limitations and possibilities of practical manned time travel."
There was just space enough for two adults, some luggage and the oxygen tubes mounted on the wall.
"Nice," Prescott said. "So it works just like in the movies? You hop in, set the time and place you want to go, and you get there?"
"Basically, yes." Moh harrumphed. "And yes, you can alter the past. But just once. The pod can't go to the same place in time twice. Let me give you a small demonstration. Thirty seconds forward, general? No spatial."
General Whopping said yes.
Prescott jerked his head out of the open hatch and bumped his head on the edges. Moh examined the injury while Prescott sat down, rubbed his neck and let the Vice President lead him out of the glassed chamber.
Moh crawled into the time pod, shut the hatch, and... they waited. Nothing happened.
"Now what?" asked the President.
"Wait for it," said the general.
Then the pod seemed to shrink, while at the same time it dissolved into round bits and segments... and in a second, it disappeared altogether. There came a slurping noise when the air rushed into the space where the pod had just been.
"What the hell?" Prescott gaped. He thought it had to be a trick, like a Vegas stage magician. "Lemme go and check the room for trapdoors. You're not trying to fool me, are you?"
Zack put a hand on Prescott's arm. "Stand back. It'll turn up. I've seen him do it before."
The general counted the seconds on his wristwatch. After about thirty seconds, he said: "Now."
There came a whooshing noise from the transparent chamber. The pod materialized, first as a small dot, then rapidly took shape and grew into a ball, a few feet above the big mattress - nearly at the same spot where it had been half a minute earlier. And the fully formed pod dropped to the ground and sank deep into the mattress which bulged out on all sides.
The general laughed with relief and Cutter said: "Yeah! It still works!"
The professor came out through the hatch, looking quite proud, and gave them a thumbs-up. He opened the door and shook hands with the general and the Vice President.
Zack Cutter moved into the doorway of the chamber, so that the door wouldn't swing shut, and stood still.
Prescott remembered to blink, and his head began to ache. He went over to the glass wall, put his nose against the pane, stared at the pod and tried to collect his thoughts.
This is too much. It's all I ever dreamed of... the ability to fix everything, make sure everything goes right. Is this a sign from the Lord? God, did you put this power in my hands, to set the world right?
"This is destiny in the making," said Cutter and fixed him with a stare like Charlton Heston's Moses in The Ten Commandments, one of Prescott's favorite movies. "Your destiny is America's destiny. As the Commander-In-Chief, this time machine is your responsibility."
The professor and the general looked worried.
"Actually," said General Whopping, "what we need is to plan a long-term strategy for how to use the time pod. It must never be used casually. Every alteration of time, no matter how small, can have far-ranging and unforeseen consequences."
"Thank you, General, Professor," Prescott interrupted. "Can you leave us alone for a few minutes?"
The scientist and the general did not seem comfortable with this suggestion.
"We'll be in the office over there," said Whopping, pointing to a door in a concrete wall. "Don't worry about lax security, by the way," he added in a strange tone. "There are plenty of hidden security cameras. And besides, it's safer having very few people around who might talk."
"Thank you for showing me this amazing machine," Prescott said and shook their hands vigorously in turn. "I'll discuss with the Vice President what should be done about... with it. Take the day off, you've earned it."
Prescott and Zack stood quietly by the glass chamber and watched Moh and Whopping walk away in a strained manner, glancing over their shoulders every few steps as if they did not trust the nation's top leaders to be left alone with their creation.
When they were out of sight, Zack and Prescott went inside the chamber. They closed the door from the inside and Zack turned to the President.
"What do you think? Should we leave this fantastic once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the hands of lesser men? Should we let the Senate decide about it... or Congress... or the media... or the Pentagon... or our party?"
Prescott shook his head. "They'd end up giving away the know-how to our enemies. I wouldn't trust our party with a time machine, that's for sure! By the way, are you sure the general and that egghead won't blab to all his friends?"
Zack Cutter nodded slowly. "I've done whatever it takes to keep the knowledge of the time pod away from America's external and internal enemies. Don't sweat the details."
Prescott willed himself to forget what Zack might mean by that. He knew that in order to function as leader of this great nation, he had to keep his eyes on the brass ring. He must focus on the important goals, not the minor details.
Besides, thinking about lots of minor details made his head hurt.
Prescott's gaze shifted from the time pod to Zack's burly, stern face and back again, and he massaged his jaw thoughtfully. "It's an awful big responsibility, having a time machine."
"You're the President, Mr. President. If not you - who? The longer we wait using it, the greater grows the risk that America's enemies get the know-how somehow. You must take decisive action. Now! Think about the War on Terror. You can go back in time to the 1980s, to Afghanistan, and personally take out Osama bin Laden."
"Take him... out?"
"With this." Zack went over to one of the golf carts and picked up the duffel bag he had brought with him. He carried it over to the chamber and unzipped it.
In the bag lay a compact anti-tank rocket launcher with four tubes, all loaded. Underneath the launcher lay a Kalashnikov, and a Glock pistol, and a few ammo boxes, and a Kevlar bulletproof vest and a first-aid kit.
Prescott swallowed. He had never killed a man in his life.
"If we sent our best troops back in time..." he began.
"We could... but then the Joint Chiefs would really be in charge of the operation, not you. Could we trust mere soldiers to resist the temptation to start mucking around with history? No, I say, it has to be you, the Commander-In-Chief. One man, one mission. Do you have moral qualms about preventing the murderous career of Osama bin Laden, the man behind Nine-Eleven? Would it be moral to not stop him?"
Prescott thought about it for five seconds. "Not really, no."
He picked up the launcher; it was heavy, but not too heavy. "So I just go back in time and space, to a spot where we know the bastard will be, I blow him up, and go back in time?"
"That's it. I already have a detailed map of at least five locations where he showed up in the Eighties." He produced a bundle of documents. "For instance, he and some of his associates met with two of our CIA field operatives in this town on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 1982."
Prescott put the launcher down. "Afterwards.... should we tell the world that we changed history?"
Zack shrugged. "I'm not sure that anybody will remember Nine-Eleven if it never happened. Except the one person who went back in time. The professor says that when you've changed the past and go back to the moment when you took off, you won't return to the same universe, but something almost exactly alike, apart from the change made by the time traveler. It's pretty complex stuff..."
"All I need to know is: Will this win the War on Terror?"
"Absolutely. There couldn't be a more total victory."
Prescott took a deep breath and stuck out his chin. "All right. I'll do it. To save the thousands of lives who died on September the Eleventh, to save the lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, to save future lives from terrorism... I'll do it. And I shall return."
Zack Cutter grinned and shook his hand. "You make me proud, Prescott. You'll make your father proud."
Prescott wiped a tear from his eye, and felt steely resolve swell in his chest. "Let's go. Show me how to control this thing, and help me get the bag of guns inside."
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