Talk about your unexpected inventions: a time machine! But this was an invention with unexpected limitations. It would only jump to a specific time and place in the past. The target was southeastern Alabama some 50 million years ago. What was surprising about this was that the other end of the "time tunnel" was in Auburn, Alabama, at the physics lab of the University. Was this spacial shift of about 100 miles caused by continental drift? It didn't seem likely, but nobody had a better explanation.
Dr. Henry Murchison had not been looking for a time machine, exactly. He had been experimenting with an obscure facet of the obscure science of "string theory." He had postulated that a certain modulation of dimension number 5 would allow one to travel to a parallel universe. To the surprise of Dr. Murchison and his graduate students, they wound up not viewing a parallel universe, but a place populated by giant carnivorous flightless birds, tiny mouse-like mammals, and a lot of things in between.
Dr. Murchison was nearly reduced to tearing out what little hair he still had—the paleontology people at Auburn University were driving him nuts with requests for viewing time and requests that he move the target in time and space to satisfy their particular interest. He was sick of telling people that they did not yet have the fine control over the viewing device to be able to direct it to specific coordinates; they needed time to refine the system.
These requests by other departments of the university were severely cutting into his own experimenting time. Finally, he went to the dean and begged for him to muzzle the rest of the faculty so that he would have time to do the essential work on the system. The fourth trip to the dean was finally the charm: the dean agreed to stop people from bothering Dr. Murchison just to stop his own nagging!
At last, they were able to do the scientific testing needed to insure the Nobel Prize in Physics, Dr. Murchison's primary concern. His graduate students knew that they would be lucky to be mentioned in a footnote on any papers related to the discovery, so they were trying to find something they could tie themselves to which would give them the recognition they needed to get a well paying job after graduate school.
James "Jim" Ward was one of those struggling graduate students who was looking for a crumb from Murchison's table. He was a striking young man of imposing proportions; all of the females who had ever seen him described him as a "hunk." Jim was somewhat older than the average graduate student, having spent 8 years in the army, much of it as a Ranger. He was an expert in most forms of combat, both with weapons and what the Japanese called "empty handed" combat. He was a master at thinking on his feet and had a reputation for never being caught at a loss for the proper action to counter a threat. He also had the makings of a first class string theory physicist.
His PhD thesis dealt with some of the finer ramifications of the 5th dimension and he was assigned the task of trying to move the spacial target of the experimental machine. His time with the machine was 3:00 to 7:00 AM, which was indicative of his relative standing in the pecking order. Oh, well, any time was better than no time.
On this particular summer morning, it was already 85 degrees Fahrenheit and 90% relative humidity—a typical Auburn August morning. This lab was not air conditioned, which was the main reason it had been available for Murchison's use. It was 6:15 AM, and Jim was as frustrated on this uncomfortable morning as one could get with 4 hours of sleep and 3 hours of unrelenting failure to get the double-damned machine to respond to his changes. As Jim's grandfather would say, "he was pissed enough to chew logs and spit toothpicks!"
Nothing seemed to be going right and Jim was so agitated that he crashed his fist down on the wooden workbench hard enough to crack the wood. This caused the resonating coil to shift position relative to the feedback coil. Suddenly, the room was filled with the smell of a subtropical rain forest and there was the sound of insects permeating the lab. A monster dragon fly sailed through the viewing screen!
Without giving the matter any thought, Jim swatted at the bug and missed. His hand passed through the view screen and smashed against something covered with large feathers. In surprise, Jim jumped back just as a large bird's head came through the screen, as if it was trying to grab Jim's hand. Jim reacted with all the acumen he was famous for in the Rangers: he killed the power to the system. A giant bird's head thumped onto the workbench in front of the view screen.
A little blood was dripping from the severed neck; otherwise, the bird's head looked like an example from a museum exhibit. It was now 6:20 AM and Jim took a seat at the desk to ponder his next action. Fortunately, he had noticed the relative position of the two coils; they were large enough that they dwarfed practically the whole rest of the machine.
He restored power to the system and checked: Yes, the view screen was now allowing him to push his hand through where it should not be able to go. He moved the coils back to their former position and he was unable to push his hand through the solid screen. Jim moved the coils again and was able to push his hand through the screen; he moved them back and the screen was impenetrable. He used the lab's digital camera to photograph the two coil positions and stored the pictures on a CD which he slipped into his backpack. He left the coils in the original positions and went back to the desk.
He pondered some more and then got up from the chair and went to the trash can, where he found a discarded copy of the Birmingham News. He used this to wrap the giant bird's head so that he could carry it without it being seen. Jim donned his backpack and picked up the wrapped package. He went out, locking the door to the lab and headed to the office of the head of the paleontology department.
Jim had to wait two hours outside Dr. Albertson's office. He was afraid that the bird's head might start to smell bad in such warm weather, but he couldn't detect anything. Dr. Albertson greeted Jim warmly, he recognized the helpful graduate student from his visits to Murchison's lab. "What can I do for you, Mr. Ward?" he asked as he unlocked his office door.
"I have something to show you, Dr. Albertson. Can you give me five minutes of your time?"
"Yes, I can spare that much time. Pleas come in and have a seat."
"Thank you. May I unwrap this package on your desk?"
"Certainly, go ahead... Where did you get that? It's perfect! That's the best representation of a... It real! That's impossible!"
"Yes, Dr. Albertson, it is real. Would you like to hear how I got it? The story may take a while."
"Yes, please tell me! I must know! This is fantastic!"
"This head nearly took a bite out of my arm this morning in Dr. Murchison's lab. I was working with the machine this morning and..." Jim proceeded to give a detailed description of his adventure with the bug and the bird. He did leave out the part about the coils, but he told Dr. Albertson everything else.
"Fantastic. You certainly thought fast and saved yourself a nasty bite. Please leave the head with me. I'd like to show it to my colleagues."
"Of course, Dr. Albertson. Keep it as long as you wish, but I recommend that you put it on ice. It will go fast in this weather."
Jim left the office of a very excited Dr. Albertson and spent the rest of the morning in his usual pursuits. It was shortly after lunch when he got a summons to Dr. Murchison's office. He was expecting the summons, but not the result.
Jim knocked on Dr. Murchison's door and was called in. He had hardly got in the door when Murchison verbally attacked him for his actions that morning. Murchison dispensed a tirade of majestic proportions on Jim's disloyalty and abuse of Murchison's trust. He should have never shown that head to anyone but Murchison and he was forthwith dismissed from the project. Jim had to gather his belongings and be out of the Physics building within an hour. His graduate assistantship was canceled and his grades were frozen. He could kiss his PhD goodbye!
Jim was absolutely floored by Murchison's reaction. He had never expected anything like this! In a daze, he gathered up his belongings and returned to his apartment. By this time, Jim was too pissed to think straight. He decided that his best action was to catch up on some of the sleep he had missed lately, so he cranked the air conditioner to 65 degrees and crawled into bed for a few hours sleep.
About 7:00 o'clock that evening, he was awakened to a banging on his apartment's door. He groggily struggled to his feet and went to the door. "Who is it?" he called.
"It's Susan, you lamebrain. Open this door immediately."
"OK, hold your horses. Let me take the chain off the latch. OK, come on in."
Susan grabbed Jim by both ears and pulled his head down to match his lips with hers. She placed a heartfelt lover's kiss on him and he responded in kind. "Oh, Susan, it's great to see you. I was going to call when I woke about 8:00 o'clock."
"I should hope so. I just heard about your clash with Murchison, today. What the hell brought that on?"
Jim gave her a complete rundown of his day, up to the time he fell in to bed that afternoon.
"What are you going to do? Your chances of reinstatement are less than zero. I've never heard of Murchison being so mad. You are through at Auburn. Can you go someplace else to finish your PhD?"
"I doubt it. He will blackball me wherever I go. I guess I'll have to hunt a job. I think that the Army will take me back, but I rather do something else."
"You know that my daddy has all the money in the world, well, most of it, anyway. If you need something to tide you over, he'll lend it to you. Your collateral can be our engagement!"
"Susan, you know that I can't marry you until I can support you. It just wouldn't be right!"
"Poo and shit! It would be years before you could earn enough money to 'support me in the way to which I am accustomed, ' so you can forget that right now. Swallow your stupid pride and let's get married. Daddy would be happy to support you along with me."
"Dearest Susan, I just had a brainstorm! I will ask your dad for money, but as an investment. That 'time machine' is just as much mine as it is Murchison's. I built it from some specs we worked out together in one afternoon of brainstorming. He could never duplicate the work I did, and I could build another, better time machine in a few weeks if I just had the money to buy the parts! Do you think your dad would bankroll me?"
"I know he would, especially if I ask him. Let's call him now and go see him tomorrow!"
She reached for the phone and called her home in Birmingham. The maid answered and Susan said, "Hi, Mary. This is Susan. Please call daddy to the phone."
She waited a few minutes, then spoke, "Hello, Daddy. I've got great news. Jim agreed to marry me! But he's been kicked out of school and you need to talk to him. Can he come see you, tomorrow? Sure, we can drive up tonight. We'll leave as soon as he gets dressed. Bye, Daddy, I love you!"
"Put on some suitable clothes, Jim. We're leaving for B'ham right away."
When suitably aroused, Susan was a force of nature and not to be crossed. Jim knew this from long experience, so he got dressed in some slacks and a polo shirt and put on his best loafers. He threw some clothes in a bag and grabbed up his backpack. They were out the door and on the way to Birmingham within 20 minutes.
Susan's car was, of course, air conditioned and she ran it on maximum as she drove them away from Auburn. The trip was about 140 miles and they made it in under two hours. They pulled into the driveway of her home before 11:00 PM and she marched them into the living room. She ran up to her father and grasped him in a loving hug, "Oh, Daddy, I missed you!"
George Wilson grinned and put out his hand to Jim, "So you're going to make an honest woman out of her, are you?"
Jim shook his hand and said, "I'm not sure that's possible, but I plan to try!"
"Susan said that you have something to say to me. Can we talk about it now?"
"Sure, I have a business proposition to offer. Crudely put, I can build a time machine and I want you to pay for it. We'll be equal partners."
"How much will this time machine cost?"
"About 60 to 75 thousand dollars, with all the bells and whistles I want to have on it."
"OK, I'll have the partnership papers drawn up, tomorrow."
"You'll agree to a crackpot scheme that easily?"
"Son, that's chicken feed where my daughter is concerned! If that's what it takes to make her happy, you've got it!"
"Great, partner. You won't regret it!"
"OK, Daddy. Now that that's settled, I'm ready for bed. Come on, Jim!"
George laughed as Susan led Jim to her bedroom.
It took about six weeks for Jim to finish his version of the time machine. George had built a large barn-like structure on a back corner of his property and Jim took it over as a laboratory. He constructed every component from industrial-quality materials and made sure that there could be no accidents like what had happened with the original model when the coils shifted. He planned to travel into the newly opened portal and he wanted to be sure that he could get back home!
Meanwhile, Susan was planning the wedding. She had scheduled it for November 17th, as that was the first day that all of her friends could be available on the same day. She had moved Jim into her bedroom and had set them up as a couple. When her father commented, she answered, "Oh, Daddy, don't be a fuddy-duddy. After all, this is the 21st century and the wedding is just a formality!"
Jim was planning on going through the portal as soon as he had finished the construction and had tested all of the safety features. However, Susan put her foot down! He would not go through the portal until after the wedding and he would not go without her! To keep peace in the family, Jim agreed, but he did continue with his preparations.
He contacted six of his old Ranger buddies and invited them to join him for a reunion and beer blast; he would put them up and pay for the tickets. He also had a business proposition to offer, but they were free to turn that down if they weren't interested. He would explain when he had them all together.
They met at George's house and had a big bar-b-cue and beer party in the back yard. Once everybody was well lubricated, but nobody was drunk, Jim made a little speech. He reminisced about some of their more dangerous and hair-raising missions and how they all loved the danger. Then Jim said, "I've got one more mission in mind that has nothing to do with the Army or the government. It is 100% legal, moral, and ethical, and, if successful, it is guaranteed to make all of you rich beyond your wildest dreams. I'm going gold prospecting in a place that no one else knows about or can get to! I've never lied to you about a mission and I won't start now. Our lives will be on the line from animals more dangerous that lions or tigers, that's why I need your help.
I know that you'll think I'm crazy, but I'm asking you to reserve judgment until you see my proof. I've invented a machine which can transport us to a world where there are no people, only wild animals. We'll go to an untouched area of Georgia, around Dahlonega, where there is gold lying on the surface, just waiting to be picked up. There are tons of gold there and the current price is nearly $8,000 per pound. I want to get all we can carry in two Humvees. We'll include two ATVs as scout vehicles, and we'll have all the weapons we need.
This is strictly a business venture. There'll be no booze, but we should all have a ball and return richer than we can imagine. Are you with me?"
At first, there was a stunned silence, and then shouts of "hell yes" and "count me in" and "I want to go." Every man and woman there was enthusiastic to give the mission a try.
"OK, that's what I wanted to hear. My partner, George Wilson, has the papers for you to sign which will make you an official part of the company. In summary, the paper says that you agree to abide by the rules. The treasure will be divided into 12 parts, George gets two parts, my wife gets two parts, I get two parts, and each of you gets one part. There is also a secrecy agreement attached—you can't talk about where we are going or how we will get there. You can talk all you want to about the gold, nobody will believe you!
"You can sign up over at that table. Mary is a Notary Public and will notarize your signature. Once everybody has signed up, I'll show you the machine I've invented."
Everybody lined up to sign the papers, and, when they were finished, Jim led them off to the lab to see the time travel machine. They trooped into the lab and Susan shut the big door while Jim powered up the machine. It operated off the regular power lines, but had an emergency generator in case that failed.
The recruits stood in front of a large LCD display, 14 feet wide by 18 feet high. The machine was currently adjusted for viewing only, as a safety measure. The display brought gasps from the crowd as it showed a meadow with some odd-looking trees in the distance. There were animals visible, but none like any the viewers had ever seen before. Jim said, "You're looking at what the Earth was like about 50 million years ago. Be prepared for all kinds of surprises." With this comment, Jim tossed a tennis ball which bounced off the display.
Susan flipped a switch and Jim announced, "Before, you were looking at what was pretty much a conventional TV display, now see what happens." He flipped another tennis ball at the screen, but this time it kept going, instead of bouncing. "Now, watch me." Jim picked up an automatic shotgun and stepped through the display. He looked around and yelled, "LOOK OUT!" as he fired the shotgun on full automatic. Six shots rang out; all hit, since the shotgun had recoil compensation. A monster bird collapsed at Jim's feet. "Shit! That was a close one!" he muttered as he stepped back through the screen. Susan flipped the switch back and she and Jim relaxed.
"Now you see why I said this trip would be dangerous!"