Lock Down Story Time

Nothing’s Ever the Same

“Well we know it works”.  Prof J Carswell shouted across the lab.  “How do you know it works?” retorted one of his PhD students.  “We need to see if the rat lives for a few weeks at least – don’t we?”  That was the right response. 

Carswell knew if wasn’t good enough to have a momentary success.  This machine had to work time and time again with the highest reliability.  That wasn’t going to be easy.  Although the power requirements were surprisingly modest the control circuitry was as complex as it gets.  This machine was a venture into complex computing that far outshone any chess playing monstrosity.

What they had done in the lab was to send a small rodent 24 hours into the future.  There was a flash a strange fizzing sound and woosh a rat disappeared only to reappear in the same spot the next day.  It isn’t like the rat had been anywhere.  To the animal the whole trip was instantaneous. 

For the professor and his students, the whole 24 hours was an agonising wait.  Had they just vaporised a rat?  Or was forward time travel a reality. 

Jake, one of the students, sat blank faced.  He was slowly trying to get his head around what had just happened.  He had been a sceptic.  The theory was too outlandish.  Even with the healthy rat in front of them they had no idea if it was perfectly the same rat or even a duplicate. 

If the theory was right this rat was perfect in every way.  Just as it had been yesterday.  All that had happened to it is that every physical particle that made it up now had a different reference time. 

Carswell explained it as if it was moving the hands on the clock forward on every atom.  Naturally that was overly simplistic, but it was a good way to get to grips with advancing in time but not place. 

Jake, now composed, asked: “if we’ve done it one way do you think we can go the other way too?”  To this point the Prof looked irritated.  “Don’t you think this is enough for now?” he growled.    

This project wasn’t a big budget State sponsored mega-construction.  It was assembled in a corner of a much renowned University.  Because most of the University Board thought the whole enterprise was crazy but worth a go to see if there were any spin-offs there was no glamour in this project. 

They had even named it to attract no attention what-so-ever.  It was called:  Janus.  For those with a little knowledge that name put people off given its association with a Roman God of two faces. 

Project Janus was supposed to be about manipulating objects in time not animals.  Experimenters will be experimenters.  This band of physicists weren’t going to be held back. 

To cut a long story short, the rat was fine.  It worked.  Next, they tried 2-days and then a week and then a month.  That worked too.  The machine tickled the laws of physics in a reliable and predicable way.  Object and live creatures could be projected into the future at will. 

One draw back was that as the range in time was increased so were the power needs.  What started off as a plaything for the 24-hour projections gobbled up enough power to dim the lights across the University for a 1-month projection. 

It’s now a year since the first successful transference of the rat.  Excitement in the lab was still running high but the team were doing their best to hide it from everyone they met.  Prof Carswell was a stickler for secrecy.  No way did he want the University administration claiming credit for his baby.  At least not for a while anyway.  

It was a day when, Spring hadn’t arrived, and Winter didn’t want to leave.  Jake, Chee, Sam, Monica and Bret were all in their last University days as students.  Monica has secured a teaching post, but the others were still thinking the world of work is something for another day.  Condensation rolled down the windows of the lab.  Light green paint flaked off the walls. 

The Janus Time Projector (JTP) resembled a sturdy block house.  The sort of place you would run towards if a group of gunmen entered the room.  It had to be that way.  It might have to last a century.  It’s got to be there to receive whatever’s projected into the future.  Its only purpose in the future is to act as a safe space.  As Bret reasoned: you wouldn’t want to be projected into a pile of bricks in the year 2100.  That would be painful. 

As it was the sums needed to predict where the JMP would be in 100 years were complex enough. Moving through space and time the Earth doesn’t just sit there waiting for you to turn up.   

Prof Carswell had gathered the original project group together.  He wanted to discuss the next steps.  This wasn’t going to be easy.  This team were so good at both theory and practice.  Here they were faced with human and moral dilemmas. 

The Prof started by recapping the last 4-years.  They had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.  Everything panned out.  There was every reason to think that, having mastered projections of 1-year they could go further and with anything. 

Carswell then stopped.  This was the moment of the big question.  He was more than willing to be the first guinea pig but at 59, with grey hairs and a hip replacement, he also knew that would be stupid.  “Here’s the crux.” He said.  “If you go in and I push the button, even if it works, I spend the rest of my life in jail.  If you go in and you press the button how will anyone know?”  He went on: “How can anyone go missing for 50-years without people asking questions?”  Naturally, he was assuming that this first JTP worked without a hitch.  

In 50-years, Jake, Chee, Sam, Monica and Bret all thought; we will be retired, and all this might then be a distant memory.  Also, there was the thought that none of this could be kept secret anymore.  It certainly couldn’t be kept secret for 50-years. 

Struggling with all the dilemmas was not what they had joined the Janus project to do.  To differing degrees, they all resented the thought of the JTP falling into the Government’s hands.  They knew it was inevitable but why shouldn’t they be like The Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur.  Why shouldn’t their names go down in history as the inventors of time travel? 

Sam stood up.  She waved her arms as if to say there’s nothing bigger than what we are doing.  “It sounds crude, but I read a lot of crime novels.  One of us is going to have to fake their death.  Then no one will come looking for them.  It must be grim.  Nothing left to identify.”  Initially on this cold and damp day everyone went slightly pale.  Her logic was infallible. 

Bathed in cold fluorescent light of the lab the subject of death wasn’t one these young people wanted to imagine.  This was a test of the strength of their friendships.  It was a road of discovery to find out which one of them was the most driven. 

Jake was a rustic lad who was happiest in the great outdoors.  He came from an average family where he turned out to be far clever than many generations that had passed.  Jakes wanderlust could see no end.  He’d planned a trip to Nepal after he’d got his doctorate. 

Chee had a complex background.  Chinese grandparents, American mother and German dad.  Ambitious but shy.  An agreeable but odd combination.  He only let people who knew him well see the intensity of his thinking. 

Sam, you might think was a natural partner for Jake, but they grated on each other.  She grew up in an idyllic rural setting but spurned it for the city life.  Sam never forgot her roots.  She just channelled her tough rustic charm when she needed to get a point across. 

Monica’s love of shoes was legendary.  Bold, bright and way above what she could afford.  It was like a billboard statement saying: don’t you dare take your eyes off me when I’m talking.  She was effervescent and occasionally tetchy. 

Bret got teased a school.  Everyone saw him as Beaker in the Muppets.  It made him study harder to show them all that he was way ahead of the game.  In fact, he didn’t need to because he had a fine mind that was exceptionally well tuned to mathematics and physics. 

It was mid-afternoon when Prof Carswell decided to break the logjam.  He knew this was the most difficult decision any of them ever had to make.  The six of them fell silent. 

“Is there any of you who definitely don’t want to enter the JTP?” barked the Prof across the room.  Thinking that a process of elimination was the place to start the serious part of the discussion. 

“I don’t think this is for me” Bret piped up.  “Don’t worry, I’ll support whoever is chosen”. 

Carswell looked are the four remaining students: “Well it’s one of you then, assuming any of you want to do it”.  Each of them looked at the other.  They weren’t smiling. 

Monica was the next to have her say: “Look, I’d don’t have much family.  There’ll be nobody I know still around in 50-years’ time.  I don’t think I’d like that at all.  OK – I’m out.”  She was carefully hiding her real fears that the JTP would fail. 

Carswell twisted his beard.  “That leaves three candidates.”  Then he reminded them of what was at stake.  “You will be a pioneer.  You will see the world in 50-years’ time.  You will have lost none of your youth.  Fame might change you in a world it’s hard to imagine.  Nothing will ever be the same.” 

The three were chewing over every aspect they could think of and more besides. 

Sam was first: “I want to go”.  Calmly Chee followed: “I want to be the one”. Jake rustled up his most authoritative voice: “It should be me. I’m a born traveller”. 

It was to be a long afternoon.   Outside the University complex was quiet.  Early Spring flowers were the only witness to the six of them, absorbed in their own private world.  

Professor T Carswell was thumbing through her father’s notes.  He’d been a meticulous note taker.  WIS had made good sense of all the records that were preserved from the old University.  WIS meant Word Intelligence System for readers in the early 21st century.  It gobbles up masses of information and then does all the sense making a human researcher would normally do. 

It was autumn 2069, leaves were doing what leaves do every autumn.  Sun shone through the facility windows.   They needed thorough cleaning as the dust of the dry summer was hard baked on. 

The Janus Time Projector (JTP) project was now in its tenth generation.  It was run by the Government and classed as Secret.  Not Top Secret.  Media investigators had spilled the beans on rudimentary time travel several years ago.  Nevertheless, the public didn’t know the full story. 

One big file remained encrypted.  It was titled: “Nothing’s Ever the Same” which was intriguing as much as anything else.  Encryption was nothing new.  Quantum computing enable codes to be broken super-fast but this one was puzzling everyone. 

JTP10 was buzzing away.  Sending things into the future had been restricted to no more than 7-years.  After JTP4 and 5 the lawyer started to get nervous about the possibility of changing the future.  It was reasoned that, from time to time humanity forgot information for good reason.  It runs on from the adage that the victors always write history. 

Tessa Carswell accepted, however politically motivated the restrictions were, they had a basic logic.  Let’s say a famous societal hero gets completely rubbished by a true account of their early work that pops out of thin air just before they are about to get a Nobel Prize.  This sort of embarrassment happened many times before the 7-year ban came in.  Since everyone has something in their past they would rather forget, few objected to the new rules. 

The ugly block house that was machine JTP1 remained switched-on.  It was guarded day and night.  No one knew if it still worked after nearly 50-years of gathering cobwebs.  No one was brave enough to turn it off.  Just in case.  JTP1 was encased in a glass dome.  The idea was to keep modern day germs and bugs away from the sensitive parts of the machine.  Shards of light spilled through the windows and bounced off the dome.  A gentle low frequency buzz produced a soothing feeling for people standing within a meter or two. 

The dullest winter in a Century came and went.  It was early March when Prof Carswell had her eureka moment.  “I know what the encryption is all about” she told her lab assistant Terry.   He wasn’t much interested. 

“Nothing will be the same for the anyone who comes through the JTP.” “How would they prove who they were? How would we know?” she reasoned.  “That’s what this file is about.  Any traveller who arrives here now will carry a key with them as a kind of authentication”.    

Professor T Carswell became desperate to prove that she was right.  Her dear dad had been a wise old soul.  This is just the sort of smart trick he would play.  It was a few more days before the proof unexpectedly materialised.   

Policemen and woman across the world don’t spend their days as if they were stars in Hawaii 5 O or even as the humble detective Colombo.  University police are especially blessed with a case load that usually consists of illegally parked cars, breaking up drunken parties and recovering stolen iPads.  In his long career, Superintendent Simon Brinley had only one serious case that topped the local newspapers.  It was a nasty and brutal assault by a wayward local lad on a young graduate.  Part of the “town and gown” rivalry that often occurred when you have 20,000 students and only 15,000 townsfolk, that went too far.  Missing persons on the other hand were a regular occurrence.  Young people rarely gave a thought for the anxieties of their parents and friends.  These weren’t crazed students running away to join the circus but love-struck young men and women who set off on road trips without a word to anyone.  Back in a week they’d write on a noticeboard.  Then they weren’t back for a month. 

On this Summer day, everything was right with the world.  Brinley was driving around campus thinking about his next cup of coffee and a waitress called Angelina.  He was daydreaming.  The Superintendent sensed that the day was going too well. 

The campus was flat.  It was an easy drive, barring dumped bicycles and beer cans.  One moment there was nothing but summer sunshine the next an almighty roar filled the air.  Never had there been an earthquake in Brownsville.  Never had there been a plane crashed or a factory explosion.  But this seemed like all of them wrapped up in one moment. 

Brinley panned the horizon expecting to see smoke rising.  He grabbed the radio: “Max, did you hear that?”  Nothing came back.  “Was that here?”  A buzz cleared and Max came back: “Nothing on the board.  I don’t think it’s a fire.”  Both were bemused.  The sound didn’t seem to have a direction.  It was all around.  One minute it was there the next it was gone.  “Hey Simon, I think something going on around the physics labs.  You’d better get around there fast.” 

Like lightning the patrol car sped off to the labs.  Screeching to a stop Brinley jumped out and headed for a set of large wooden double doors.  He burst through like a man on fire.  “What the hell’s going on?”  There in front of him was a group of nerdy looking students and a member of the staff he knew vaguely as Flat-head Prendergast.  He also knew that wasn’t his real name.  That’s just what people, mainly students called him behind his back. 

The all looked up and smiled as if ice cream wouldn’t melt in their mouths.  “I’m sorry what’s the problem.  You look upset” the real Prof J Carswell said calmly.  The officers panic quelled as he realised no one appeared to be in any danger.  “Did you hear that noise.  Did anyone here hear it?” Brinley quizzed them.  They all nodded.  “Yes, we heard it. It didn’t come from here.”  Now, the officer knew he was on to something.  Why answer a question he hadn’t asked, he thought? 

The new physics lab tapped straight into a massive power supply.  The policeman knew that things did go bang when people played around with huge amounts of power.  But the sum of all his questioning resulted in nothing.  Everyone was tight lipped.  To no avail he headed back to the small station on campus.  Along the way he thought: how do I write this up and make sense of it? 

Eventually, the whole episode of the “big bang” in late May got wrote up as a sonic boom from a passing military aircraft.  Without delving too deeply that was the best way of closing the file. 

At the same time, the University police opened a missing persons file.  Nothing unusual in that after all it was the beginning of summer.  Students would disperse to every corner of the Country. 

Newly qualified doctorate, Sam Westacre was reported by her flatmates to be gone without a trace.  That said, when interviewed by Superintendent Brinley, her friends had noted that all her hiking gear, which she treasured dearly had gone too.  Above her bed was a map of the world with crosses marking the places where experienced hikers might go.  She had talked with wild enthusiasm about South America.  Rivers, lakes, forests and mountains she loved them all. 

This was no detective series.  This was no X-file.  It seemed to tie-up.  At least in Brinley’s mind.  Almost certainly, Ms Westacre would turn up in a month or so.  No doubt her social media accounts would tell everyone where she had gone.  Lots of colourful pictures of extinct volcanoes and hairy rats would no doubt turn-up. 

Now, let’s step back a couple of days.  To that long afternoon in the physics lab. 

Few knew of the Janus Time Projector (JTP) project.  Even the Universities funding administration had been kept at arm’s length from Prof J Carswell’s pet project.  The six of them: The Prof, Jake Maddley, Chee Koh, Sam Westacre, Monica Goldsmith and Bret Malins put it together and made it work.  Lots of other people helped but they had no idea what they were building. 

That fateful day, the 19th of May, was to change history.  Events in Brownsville the dullest, but tidiest little town on Earth would shake Time itself. 

Before the choice was made, secretly Carswell had hoped that one of the women would be the one to go.  To be projected into the future.  To him, with his 20th Century view of the world, it made more sense for a clever fertile woman to experience the world 50-years in the future.  He also knew that the choice had to been freely made and agreed by each one of them without any disagreements.  A tall order but a necessity, nevertheless. 

A hundred times, the final three students chewed over every aspect choice to be made.  In the end, random chance was the way the choice was made.  Not with a coin or a dice but by a random number generator they trusted.  Sam, Chee and Jake entered a number to act as a seed.  The algorithm could have answered instantly but Carswell was having none of that, so he programmed a slight delay.  A favourite tune played for a dramatic minute or two. 

On the screen a bold letter of the alphabet appeared.  They had agreed that the letter that came out closest their first name initial would name the one to go into the JTP.  It was a “V” that registered on the computer screen.  Everyone knew that meant Sam.  Now Sam was going to disappear.