The Time Machine: A Tale of 635,972 AD
Following my repast and confessions to the gentlemen that weekly gather in my home, I retreated to my bed and sank into its luxurious linens and flannels without further instruction for my servants. I slept, as they say, as one dead.
I awoke early with a troubling thought on my conscience that has compelled me to make this entry in my journal. Possibly the last entry, as I shall be too busy in the coming days to write overmuch, so consumed do I expect to become with my work.
The thought is simply this: I did not tell the gentlemen the full tale of my journey to the future. Indeed, my adventures with the Morlocks and the Eloi were only the most trying of my experiences. There was one experience that came before it and, whilst it may not have been quite so dramatic, it was, in its way, much more thoroughly troubling. I left it out simply because it is so unbelievable – much less believable than the carnivorous beasts of 802,701. Nevertheless, as a scientist I consider it my duty to record my experiences for posterity, and so herein I shall do, though I rather suspect this shall be discounted as the ravings of a man disturbed. I am not so certain they are wrong, truth be told.
During my headlong progress into futurity, I at length became fatigued and parched with thirst. I resolved to stop, albeit briefly, to see if I might secure refreshment in some far-flung future date. I moved the levers of my time machine until I came to a complete stop. The dials read 635,972.
My machine rested upon a flat green, mowed and manicured to precise length by a device of unknown but doubtlessly mechanical provenance. It was an altogether pleasant location – birds twittered calmly in the branches of geometric trees, a road of smooth and multicolored flagstones ran by to my left, and the sun shined merrily upon the countryside. I stepped out to go exploring.
No sooner had I journeyed ten paces than I was challenged by a denizen of this distant era. I might say he was a man, but he was the most wretchedly deformed man I have yet laid eyes on. His skin was black as pitch, his ears distended into massive discs planted upon his head, and his face elongated and unusually tan, the pigment of his skin for some reason having drained from his visage. He wore red breeches with white buttons and overlarge yellow shoes. He was horrifying to gaze upon – not human by any stretch of the imagination save one: his speech.
“Hey!” he called, quite merrily, “wanna come inside my Clubhouse?”
I was taken aback, but good manners enabled me to accept his hospitality. I feel I did little more than grunt affirmation, but the creature took it in side. “Well all right! We’ve got to say the magic words! Say it with me now: Meeska-mooska-Mickey Mouse!”
Perplexed, I consented to recite the odd phrase. As I did so, a structure materialized from the ground itself – a large, red domed house with a kind of tower at the center that was fashioned to basically mimic the physiology of my host, who identified himself as “Mickey Mouse.”
From the structure and various outbuildings emerged other bizarre anthorpomorphic forms – man with the face of a duck, a woman-mouse, a woman-duck, and various dog and cow people as well. They each introduced themselves to me by name, chanting in unison. It was all choreographed, as a stage play might be. For reasons I could not ascertain then and cannot now, it disturbed me greatly, though none of the creatures spoke to me in anything other than friendship.
I was invited inside. The furnishings appeared sparse, but at a word any manner of thing would emerge from a door in the floor – a promise, I felt, of what mankind’s future industry might bring us. I was offered water, which I drank with thanks, but very soon some manner of problem developed. The glasses, it seemed, were each of a different shape and color, but the proper trays upon which the glasses were meant to be stored had gone missing. This caused great tribulation among my strange hosts, and they insisted on questing out from their abode to find them. It seemed strange to me that apparent adults would suffer such distress over so minor an inconvenience, but I have since come to believe that this was a side-effect of their life of effortless comfort: as technology coddled them, smaller and smaller impositions upon their comfort were seen as greater and greater tragedies.
I assented to join the search, again acutely aware of how hospitable they had been and how little desire I had to offend creatures that could summon structures from the very earth by voice alone. Before departure, their leader (Mickey) chanted before a great machine. This had the effect of causing the machine to eject a small disk from which, later on, my hosts were able to summon up all manner of odd objects – a series of pillows, a length of ribbon, a bowl of dog food, and so on. These were employed to solve “problems” later on, though none of these problems were any more complex than the kind that could easily be solved by an eight-year-old of our present day. Surely this was evidence of the waning intelligence of man! I was disheartened.
Conversation with these degenerate creatures was virtually impossible. The art of free exchange of ideas was extinct, evidently replaced with the banal presence of plenty afforded them by their wondrous machines. Their stares were of the blankest sort when I asked how “Toodles” functioned or asked what had ever become of England or, indeed, of Europe as a whole. Were they alone in the world? Were there cities? Were there other “clubhouses” to see? No answers were forthcoming. The only thing they would say is “We’d better ask Professor Von Drake!” This professor (a duck-creature with a notably German accent – you can imagine my skepticism) insisted that the machine could answer my questions. I looked at it, massive, all-powerful, and felt deep terror in my bones. When they said it was time to “stand up and do the hot-dog dance” my revulsion could no longer be concealed.
I departed with haste and resolved never to return unless, by guile or force, I might destroy this machine that had so un-manned my distant descendants. So it is now that I pack several sticks of dynamite, a revolver, and a sledgehammer into my time machine. If the Toodles might be destroyed then, perhaps the Morlocks might never have diverged from the Eloi. Perhaps the future of mankind need not be so bleak.
Time grows short. I must make ready.
The Ups and Downs of Being a Wizard
Say you had a time machine. Not a Delorean, but a real, honest time machine under your control with no strings attached. Say it just makes doors from the modern world to whatever time you like – you can pop back and forth, like commuting. Also, given that time is not linear, you don’t actually have to worry about altering your current timeline if you go back and, say, step on a butterfly or something. Quantum theory accounts for all that stuff – if your timeline gets messed up for whatever reason, you can just travel sideways in time. Time, no matter what the Doctor says, has no fixed points we know of.
Anyway, say you had one: where would you go?
Time machine stories usually answer this question by sending their protagonists to a point in time that is crucial to their character development. Marty McFly winds up in the 1950s because his unresolved issues with his parents are what is holding him back and preventing him from reaching true maturity. The Time Traveler of HG Wells goes to the distant future because the Time Traveler is an Upper-class British Imperialist sent to witness and experience the (proposed) endpoint of the British social system and imperialist doctrine if extrapolated through the aeons. None of this, of course, really helps us in making our decisions. Ultimately, where each of us goes would be a facet of our psychology and personality, perhaps settled upon by factors we are not even consciously aware of.
For my part, I always think about going back to the Middle Ages and becoming a wizard.
I don’t mean to say that I think magic is real – of course it isn’t – but science and technology sure are real and would appear to be as magical as anything else in the context of medieval Europe. Now, mind you, this plan is almost certainly a bad idea. The dangers are tremendous – disease and violence alone would account for most of the reason not to go. Even assuming you weren’t murdered by a bandit or burned as a witch, you’d probably catch something nasty, like the Plague or Smallpox, and wind up in pretty deep trouble. Now, granted, you’re just one short time-machine trip from the good old 21st century, but still it would be a pretty crazy risk. Even all of this stuff wouldn’t be much help.
It would be cool, though, right? To see a medieval tourney, to walk the streets of medieval London, to see the castles when they were still operational – all the stuff of fairy tales. Of course, you’d see the ugly side of it, too: filthy people, suffering and starvation, barbarism and ignorance. You’d be pretty badass, though, with your layer of high-tech body armor under your robes, a stun-gun up your sleeve, and a whole bunch of scientific and technical knowledge to impress the locals. Once you learned the language, you’d be a pretty important and dangerous guy.
Me, I’d build myself a tower off in the wilderness somewhere. I’d fortify it against attack (reinforced concrete, steel doors, tear gas emitters, strobe lights, etc.), stock it with all the supplies I’d want, and let the rumors of my existence spread. I’d be a legend. Hell, even at my age (mid-30s), I’d be pushing old age anyway. I’d get to entertain knights and priests, peasants and kings. I’d give them wise counsel, impress them with my ‘magical’ knowledge, etc.. Perhaps they’d write legends or stories about me.
Of course, at this point in my little fantasy I usually realize something: man, how self-centered! Is my only reason for travelling back to this time to exercise my ‘power’ over the people of that era? Is it all about me? Wow, talk about egocentrism. One might think I don’t feel powerful enough in this world so therefore I’d feel the need to go to another better suited to realizing my ambitions. Its purpose, ultimately, is an ego-boost.
Come to think of it, is such egotism all that far from the vast majority of time-travelling stories? I mean, even if the time traveler eventually realizes he isn’t superior to the people he meets in the past (or future), all too often the storyline involves the feeling of superiority or, at least, of a higher level of cool. Marty McFly is cooler in the 50s and also cooler in 2015 than those he meets there. Sylvester Stallone is superior to the future he encounters in Demolition Man and Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is the story of a guy who goes back to the court of King Arthur and modernizes the whole operation (even if, in the end, he regrets doing so). One wonders, given the prevalence of such a theme, if the very idea of time travel itself is, essentially, egotistical. We, the blossom of modern humanity, wish to travel back (or forward) to a time and place in need of the enlightenment we can bring them and, in turn, hope to receive the adulation of the benighted masses. No imperialist or colonial power of any era could have goals any more selfish, right?
So, on second thought, let’s scrap the time machine idea for the nonce. Let’s see if we can’t clean up the now before we go prancing off to the then.