Time travel gives me a headache.
No, I mean that literally.
Supposedly it's an instantaneous jump from one time to another devoid of any sensation, but that's a big fat lie. It always makes my head throb like it's about to explode. Imagine the absolute worst hangover you ever had stabbing you behind your eyeballs – then multiply it by about a million and you'll have some idea what it feels like. Tylenol, aspirin, and ibuprofen won't touch it even if you take them altogether. All you can do is wait it out.
So I did. Which of course means I didn't.
Confused? Brother, you're not alone. Time travel sucks.
It was invented – if you can call it that – six months ago as the tachyon flies. They told me it was the result of years of research but after going through it a few times I'm not so sure anymore. I mean, think about it, how can you actually prove when a time machine was invented?
Couldn't you use it to go back in time to build it? Which naturally begs the question of who actually invented it and how. The problem is; once it's made there's no sure way to unmake it so you're stuck with the stupid thing and all the fallout that comes with it.
It was a few weeks ago (kinda) when I was introduced to time travel. I'd gotten my discharge papers from the military but because I was an orphan I didn't have any family to go home to and nothing pressing to take care of. The eggheads in charge of the project specifically told me that's why they picked me; I didn't have any ties to hold me down.
I was sitting at home nursing a cold one, watching the Rams loose another game when there was a knock at the door. The Rams fumbled the snap and the middle of the field instantly turned into a huge dog pile as everyone jumped on the ball. I shook my head and went to answer the door.
There was a thin nerdy looking guy in glasses looking for all the world like an over eager pup. Behind him was a special forces guy in a suit. He didn't say it and I didn't ask, but I'd met a few of them in the army so I knew the look. The nerd started talking as soon as I opened the door.
“Mister Owens, I'm so glad we caught you at home. Your country needs you for a project of vital importance. Can we come in?” His squeaky voice matched his appearance; he was practically a walking cliché.
He tried to push his way in and got exactly nowhere. I'm not Mister Universe or anything but I'm in good shape, 220 pounds, and not an ounce of it fat. He was, I dunno, maybe 93 pounds soaking wet. He walked into my chest and bounced off when I didn't move.
The special ops guy cracked a smile at me but didn't say anything. That's their version of rolling on the ground laughing their butts off. But it told me the geek wasn't very popular with the people who worked with him.
The nerd started whining and carrying on about how I'd broken his nose, asking me to check to see if it was bleeding or pushed to one side; and that was my introduction to Doctor Harmon G. Tuffy, Ph.D. Yep, the 90-pound weakling was named Tuffy. I told you you he was a cliché.
Two weeks later I'd been poked, prodded, examined, and injected for everything from the common cold to Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (don't ask 'cause I don't know). They weighed me and measured me forty different ways from Sunday. By the time they were done I was convinced they were going to send me back to Europe in the 1300's during the Black Plague just to see if I survived.
They didn't but it was a near thing. Tuffy got all excited when I made an off-hand joke about it and nearly sent me there in spite of the brass hats. If they hadn't been running the show he'd have done it.
They didn't want to take chances on sending any weapons through time so the special ops guy, Sergeant Flint, and his buddies put me through a two-week crash course in hand-to-hand combat and general dirty tricks. I never realized how many nasty things you could do with wire. It makes you wonder about the things they didn't teach me. Safer not to ask, I guess.
The longer I was there the more I realized this whole shebang was a rush job. For some reason they were in a huge rush with no time for planning so they were making it up as they went along. The special forces guys weren't talking of course and the brass barely gave me the time of day, so I decided to see if I could get Tuffy to spill the beans.
It was easy. The guy is a security nightmare; ego the size of all outdoors and couldn't keep a secret if his life depended on it, which it does and it's why we're in this situation to begin with.
To make a long story short, he trusted the wrong guy with his plans for the time machine. René Bouton was a French foreign exchange student with expensive tastes and an empty wallet. Four weeks ago he downloaded all the plans to a CD, grabbed the first time time machine they'd built and went a week back in time to sell it to the Russians for enough money so he could retire to the French Riviera for life.
Tuffy also mentioned he'd first invented time travel four years ago after drinking too much at a 4th of July party and waking up the next morning in his dorm room at Princeton with a monster hangover. He was wishing he had some way to go back in time to warn himself not to do it when the idea for the thing actually came to him. He claimed that's when it all started. I knew right then and there he hadn't trusted the wrong guy so much as he just couldn't keep his mouth shut. I figured somebody needed to shoot him just on general principles.
Remember how difficult I said it would be to prove when a time machine was invented?
Well according to Tuffy, apparently the Russians had already started accusing the U. S. of espionage for stealing the time machine from them, and the President wasn't amused. He wanted us to get the plans and the time machine back from René before he sold them to the Ruskies, but he couldn't afford to lose anyone important in the process so I got picked.
Ain't it grand being expendable?
The brass nearly had a cow when they discovered Tuffy had let the cat outta the bag. They'd wanted to send me through with minimal explanations and hope I pulled their chestnuts out of the fire without ever finding out how cheaply they viewed my life.
I demanded more money, they refused, I tried to leave, and found out the hard way that Sergeant Flint really wasn't my friend. After I was done coughing and clearing my throat from nearly being choked to death he explained, in short one-syllable words, that quitting wasn't an option and neither was refusing. It was do or die. What was my preference? All the while holding a .44 mag to my head.
So I said I'd do it. What would you have said?
But if they were going to screw me, I was going to double-screw them in return. I figured once I went back in time I could break any promise I made to 'em and do whatever I jolly well pleased. If they didn't like it, what were they going to do about it?
So I went through . . . and wound up with that killer headache I told you about.
The time machine was this weird metal plate with a bunch of wires and electronics and stuff, a backpack nuclear reactor, and some straps over the shoulders to hold the whole thing together. Yeah that's right, you wear it. There was also this helmet like fighter pilots use with a heads-up display showing dials, gauges, and read-outs that meant jack squat to me. The only one that made any sense was the one showing the date I'd come from and the date I was going to. Other than that it was a bunch of scientific gobbledygook. Techno-fashion for geeks.
Along with that was a pouch of 10 knock-out ampules in my pocket, guaranteed to put the average person out cold in about 2 seconds, and keep 'em that way for 8 hours.
After a few moments of sheer agony I pried my eyelids open and thought for a minute it hadn't worked – except for the headache. Then I realized I was still in Tuffy's stupid underground lab but it was the lab from like, four weeks ago. Things were moved around and all the people who'd been there a second ago, or four weeks from now, weren't there any more. Or weren't there yet. Whatever. The time machine, the first one, was hanging over a metal framework like a manikin. I staggered across the room and hid behind a pallet just as the French guy came running in.
René had a CD case in his hand; he headed straight for the time machine and didn't see me until it was too late. I jabbed him with one of the ampules, he gasped and stiffened for a moment then turned into a rag doll in my arms. I took the CD and stuffed it in one of my pockets.
According to Tuffy he'd come running into the lab a couple minutes after René so I didn't have much time. I was supposed to reset the time machine to jump back to the future-now or now-future or whatever you call it, but instead I screwed those dirty rotten so-and-so's just like I planned and double jumped another four weeks into the past. In other words I basically just left the controls where they were and jumped again.
This is where it gets weird(er).
I wasn't used to time machines (who is?) and didn't realize the way the controls worked. The settings didn't jump you four weeks forward or back from where, sorry when, you are or were, they sent you to a specific date in time – period.
Instead of jumping four more weeks into the past, I jumped again to the moment when I first appeared in the lab a few second ago to stop René.
So now there's two of me. Appearing at exactly the same time.
It took me a second to realize what happened, but because the other me wasn't expecting the massive headache and I (the now me-I) did, I was able to knock him (me) out and still knock out René again when he showed up again a few seconds later. I also grabbed the CD and stuffed it in my pocket again.
I still didn't have much time (ha ha) so I decided to jump to July 5th four years ago, the morning Tuffy woke up with his insane idea for time travel. I grabbed the other me with his (my) time machine, the time machine from the manikin, set the controls on my time machine, and jumped.
The lab wasn't a lab any more, it was just an underground cave almost pitch black. I could barely see. I dumped the other me and all the time machines then wandered outside so I could have some light to work by. This time I was careful and took my time setting the controls for Tuffy's dorm room at Princeton – I didn't want another mistake.
When you jump through time you're actually leaving our 4-dimensional space-time continuum then re-entering it at a different point than when/where you left it.
I memorized that line when Tuffy tried explaining it to me one time; makes me sound pretty smart doesn't it?
Anyway, the point is, you not only jump through time but through space as well. It's just a matter of putting in the right settings. I may not understand the whole space-time biz, but latitude and longitude are easy; just map reading 101. Even the altitude part was simple, setting it for his third floor room.
I jumped and there I was, standing in the middle of a dorm room that was a nerd's wet dream come true; there were electronic gizmos everywhere along with several computers doing high tech geek stuff, and he even had – I kid you not – two Bunsen burners heating weird bubbling liquids in test tubes with glass tubes snaking back and forth like something out of a mad scientist movie.
Maybe he was making moonshine but I doubt it; it didn't smell right.
Mister Tuffy himself was passed out like a light on his bed, one foot dangling over the side where he'd obviously flopped down and gone bye-bye. I grabbed him – none too gently – and heaved him over my shoulder. I spied a flashlight sitting near the head of his bed, in case he had to got potty in the middle of the night I guess, and grabbed it. I reset the controls just as he started to come to and jumped back to the cave entrance.
I dumped him down on the ground then tranked him before he could do much more than let out a muffled yelp from banging his head on the stone. I wanted to yell too 'cause my head was killing me but there wasn't anything I could do about it.
I turned on the flashlight and drug him in to the cave. The other two time machines and the other “me” were right where I left 'em.
I'm still having trouble wrapping my mind around what I did next but it was the only thing I could think of. I intertwined the two time machines around each other and the other me, then set their timers to jump simultaneously but in different directions; one two seconds into the future and the other two seconds into the past. I didn't know for sure what would happen but I had a sneaky suspicion I didn't want to be there when it did.
As it turns out I was right. There's a city-sized hole in the ground where that cave used to be.
Once the timers were set I jumped back to my time, aiming for a hick town in the middle of nowhere, chosen at random off the map.
So, here I am, sitting in a sleazy motel room in some podunk little town with a time machine in the corner trying to figure out what to do with my life. You know, kinda like I was before all this started.
Or didn't start, as the case may be, because Tuffy never had a chance to invent time travel so no one ever came to get me for the project. So there's another me still sitting in my old apartment drinking beer and watching football who never heard of any of this.
When you're wearing the time machine you're immune to whatever changes you make to the time stream, or so Tuffy claimed, which is why I couldn't leave the other other me laying around after I tranked him. Nothing I did in time would affect him and having an argument with myself face-to-face was a little too weird to deal with, so I made sure he died in the explosion.
But who died? I'm still here aren't I? Is the other me in heaven or hell or something? If so, what does that mean for me? Or my soul? Do I have a soul? Do I wind up in Limbo or just go poof into nothingness when I die? Become a never-was?
And how did the time machine get here? Tuffy died before he invented it. If he didn't invent it, who did? Oh I know what I just said – hey, I'm the one who wrote it – but it gives me the willies trying to figure it all out.
As far as the outside world is concerned Tuffy just vanished from his dorm room at Princeton, never to be seen again, the same day a huge explosion went off for no apparent reason in that cave, and I just popped into existence in this no-wheres-ville town four years later.
So I sit and wonder, now what? Where do I go from here? What do I do with the time machine? What do I do with me?
What would you do?