Winterbottom entered Doctor Aaron Gamostein's office, a room which could only be described as a shambles. His eyes wandered to a blackboard full of scribbled formulas, drawings of geometric shapes that were like optical illusions and mathematical equations. None of it made the slightest sense to Winterbottom. After he doffed his floppy hat, he made his way through piles of books and overflowing wastebaskets to sit on a straight-backed chair facing Gamostein's desk. The famous physicist had on a rumpled, stained suit; his long uncut hair flared out from his head wildly; and his spectacles were perched precariously on his forehead. He was deeply engrossed with something on his computer, which set among a jumble of papers, reports, magazines and books. He was completely oblivious of Winterbottom's entrance.
Winterbottom cleared his throat.
"Be with you in a minute," Gamostein growled.
The archaeologist waited patiently for several additional minutes. Finally, Gamostein yelled, "I did it. I got that damn frog across the road." He pumped his arm a few times in triumph and gazed up at his visitor. Grinning sheepishly, he said, "Darn computer games. They're so addicting." He stood up and extended his hand. "You're Doctor Winterbottom, I presume."
As Winterbottom rose to shake Gamostein's hand, his well-starched field jacket and trousers crinkled noisily. "The honor is mine, sir, to meet the man who discovered the chronotron, the elementary particle of time. In the years to come, I'm sure it will prove to be a great boon to mankind."
Gamostein waved his hand as though to dismiss the compliment. "Perhaps. So far, however, no time travelers from the future have dropped in on me to get my autograph. Besides, someone would have made that discovery soon or later. It was inevitable once you posited the evolution of the universe since the big bang, quantum theory, relativity, the graviton, dark matter, dark energy and the multiverse. The thing is to come up with a single theory that explains everything. Now that would be a discovery. The God theory I call it. But, enough of my meandering. I understand that you've volunteered to be my guinea pig, so to speak."
Winterbottom curled up the corners of his thin lips. "Yes Doctor, I understand that the university engineering department has designed a time machine using your theory of elementary time particles."
"That's true. And it works. We have sent objects and animals forward and backwards in time using the device. But so far, no actual human beings. In fact you may be in luck. As a demonstration, I intend to send my cat to this very moment from two weeks in the future. It should arrive any second."
As though on cue, a shabby black cat appeared seemingly out of nowhere to land on the Winterbottom's lap, startling him so that he leaped up and tipped over his chair. After gaining his aplomb, he brushed cat hair off his lap, righted his chair, and said mildly, "Amazing. And you claim that the creature arrived here from two weeks in the future."
"I assume so. That's when I intend to send him back in time. Sorry about his landing in your lap though."
Winterbottom thought for a moment. "But suppose you forget to send him?"
Gamostein shrugged. "A paradox. In two weeks there might be two identical Jakes, that's assuming. Jake is really my cat's name. You see, I haven't named him yet since he just arrived. Hmm." He got up and went to the blackboard, erased about a quarter of it, and began to write mathematical formulas furiously. Finally, he scratched his head, getting chalk dust in his hair, and said, "Schrodinger's uncertainty principle comes into play in this case. The actual outcome is unclear mathematically."
"I see. So the consequences of time travel are not always predictable?"
"Precisely. That's why I think you're a brave man to volunteer for this project. We really don't know what dangers a time traveler may face. We've made educated guesses, but we really don't know. Your position is similar to the first men to venture into space."
Winterbottom puffed out his chest. "Well, I'm no stranger to danger. There are many hazards that archaeologists face while on a dig; irate natives, poisonous snakes, scorpions, tomb robbers, bandits, uncooperative governments, exotic diseases, ancient curses, to name only a few. Besides I was almost eaten by the Azaroth on Mars and attacked by the Cthulu in Woodstock, New York."
"Good. The world needs men like you, men who do not fear to risk their lives for a worthy cause. But, before you commit yourself, I would like to give you our assessment of the dangers I believe you may face."
"I understand. Forewarned is forearmed."
Gamostein began to pace with his hands folded behind his back and slightly bent over. Winterbottom was reminded of the twentieth century comedian Groucho Marx. A position Gamostein often took when lecturing students. "I'm assuming that because of your occupation, that we will be sending you to the past. The first danger you may face is the possibility of an object occupying the same space as yourself in the time period that you are sent. We will minimize this hazard by launching you from deepest space." He gazed over his glasses at Winterbottom. "Have you ever been outside of the solar system?"
"No. But, as I said before, I have traveled to Mars. A highly developed civilization exists there underground. But they are not friendly. They sacrifice strangers to their demon-god, Azathoth. Uh, I have a question. How will I return to earth? I'm not a space pilot."
"Oh, the space-time machine is completely automatic. It will fly you into deep space away from any stellar systems. By the push of a button it will send you into the past at the selected date and time. Once it arrives in the past, it will fly you directly to the designated spot on earth, which will be in a remote area near the chosen location. On return, it will do everything again in the reverse order. All you have to do is close a few switches."
"I see. Press on."
"As I said, you will be launched from deep space where the hazard from other objects in minimal. Yet, it is not zero. There's the off-chance that a micrometeorite will exist in the exact same location as your craft in the period you wish to visit. But, the odds against it are astronomical. Nonetheless ... you never know.
"The second danger is more likely. Although we will take every precaution and give you weapons with which to defend yourself, there is always the threat of something in the past that may cause you harm. For example, if you go to the era when saber-toothed tigers existed, you could be mauled and eaten by one. Or, more likely, you might go to a period where a war is going on; you could become the target of an arrow, spear, bullet or bomb. Also, you must be careful about the local mores and prohibitions. For example, your knowledge of modern science and technology could get you burned at the stake as a witch in certain ages."
"I'm prepared to face such hazards. But, after what you said about the cat, what concerns me is the possibility of creating a paradox. For example, suppose I do something that prevents my own birth. For example, cause the death of an ancestor before my later ancestor is born? How do I avoid this?"
The physicist chuckled. "I see that you do not really understand the nature of time travel. Suppose you went to the past and did kill your ancestor. It wouldn't make a bit of difference. Do you know why? It is because when you return to the present, you will not be returning to the universe you left. Just the fact of your going to the past at all creates a 'paradox' if only a single future existed from any point of time. In that case time travel would be impossible.
"The thing is that from each instant of time, there are an infinite number of possible futures. Parallel universes exist for every possibility. Some are only slightly different. Others are vastly different. Sometimes the difference is so minuscule that you may not detect any change whatsoever. You might believe that you had returned to the universe you left. In other cases, the changes would be so great that the universe you return to would be insanely different from the one you knew. When you go to the past and return, you move sideways in time, as well as backward and forward. The more the present is changed by your actions in the past the more sideways slippage."
"It sounds complicated. I don't ... think I understand."
"Allow me to illustrate. I want you to be very clear on this point before you make your final decision to go through with the experiment."
Gamostein went to the blackboard, erased everything that had been written on it previously and drew a horizontal line from one edge to the other. On the right side of the line he placed a large dot. He pointed to the dot. "Now, let's say this is the present moment. If I send you back to the past ..." He moved his finger from right to left along the line. He stopped near the left edge and drew another dot. "Your arrival in the past changes the entire future from that moment on. So the next moment in your future would be here." He drew a short diagonal line from the dot and placed another dot on the end of it. He chalked in another horizontal line starting at the second dot. This line was parallel to the first line. "Now suppose you perform an action that changes history." He placed a second, large diagonal line emanating from the second dot and a dot at the end of it. "Okay. At this point you return to the present." He drew a third horizontal line parallel to the other two and made a large dot at the right end of it. This dot was vertically displaced from the very first dot he had drawn. "As you can see, the universe here is much different from the one you started from, although from your standpoint -- as the time traveler -- you would be at the same location in time." He glanced at his watch. "Let's say at exactly three forty six in the afternoon of the twenty-sixth of January of the year twenty fifty two A. D."
"Correct. The exact moment you left to go to the past." Gamostein grinned and brushed his hands as though his illustration had explained the whole concept.
Winterbottom was more bewildered than ever and stared wide-eyed at the diagram. "Uh ... I think I grasp the concept. You mean, I don't actually change the present in this universe. I just sort of create a new ... uh, present. But ... but what happens to the real present."
"There is no such thing as a 'real' present. The other parallel presents are as real as the one you are living in. Actually, since we are continuously moving from the past toward the future, in essence the present does not exist. But as I understand your question, the present as it seems to exist from my point of view remains unchanged."
The more Gamostein explained, the more confused Winterbottom became. "What do you mean when you say 'seems to exist from your point of view'?' The same moment also exists for me, doesn't it?. Time and the material universe are objective things. They exist other than in our minds, regardless of what some nihilistic philosophers may say."
"Oh, I am not saying that the universe at any particular moment is simply a subjective phenomena of our minds. Although an objective material universe exists at the present moment, it is but one of an infinite universes that exist at the same moment. We are not aware of them because they are in dimensions other than our familiar three. As the great Albert Einstein has demonstrated, the universe is relative to the observer and depends upon where we are and our motion relative to the things we are observing." Gamostein had warmed up to his subject and waved his arms about as he spoke. "Time travel theory has its basis in the theory of relativity as well as quantum theory and indeterminism. You see, I was not the first to theorize that a time particle must exist. I simply performed the experiments that proved its existence. The first to hypothesize a time particle was the genius mathematician, Doctor Hoygold. His premise, in his brilliant paper on the topic, is that in order for the universe to exist as it does, there must be a time particle with wavelike properties. The theory of chronotons reconciles relativity with quantum theory and allows the possibility of time travel."
Winterbottom rolled his eyes. "I'm afraid the entire subject is a bit too technical for my understanding. After all, I'm only an archaeologist, more used to dealing with chips of clay than atomic particles. Tell me though, if I'm extremely careful to change the past as little as possible, will the universe I return to be identical to this one?"
"The odds are very good. I'd say almost astronomical in your favor. You see, according to Hoygold's theory, there's a damping effect in time that keeps things relatively stable -- although this has yet to be proven. The thing is, to be on the safe side, you should simply observe. Try not to touch anything, move anything or disturb the past in any way. Well, now that I have made you aware of the hazards, are you still determined to go through with it?"
"Oh yes. It's been my dream for as long as I can recall to see ancient Greece in all its glory. To hear Socrates or Plato lecture in person."
"Well then, you seem to be ready to go ahead with your part of the project. Of course, there'll be a training period. You'll have to learn how to operate the space-time machine, and what to do in an emergency, although for the most part, it functions automatically once we've set its parameters. An artificial intelligence program does all the calculations and controls the operation of the equipment. Nonetheless, there are a small number of manual controls. Also, if for some reason, you cannot return to the shuttle during the rendezvous window, you might need to modify its program slightly. Naturally, you'll also have to brush up on your ancient Greek, language, customs and so forth. Would you like a tour of our facilities now?"
Gamostein strode down the space station's corridor at a pace that made the Winterbottom hurry to keep up, although his legs were longer than the physicist's. They halted before a wide metal door which Gamostein opened by placing his thumb on a reader. With a loud rumble, the massive door slowly opened. Beyond it was a large shuttle bay in the center of which was a one-man spaceship. Technicians, scientists, engineers and mechanics swarmed over it, making adjustments, taking measurements and servicing its mechanical and electronic parts.
Gamostein put an arm around Winterbottom's shoulders and made a sweeping gesture with his free hand. "There it is, the space-time machine, a marvel of engineering designed for atmospheric, space and time travel." He led the archaeologist to the ship's access door. The cockpit's interior was cramped, and Winterbottom's eyes bugged when he saw the enormous number of dials, meters, switches and other controls on the instrument panel. He wondered if he would need to learn what they were all for. He knew he could not even program a VCR properly. "Will I have to know ..." He gulped. "What all those dials and switches are for?"
"Hardly. Most of them are for the people who service the ship and the engineers. You'll be concerned with but a half dozen controls. Of course, there are manuals aboard that describe each instrument, if for some unknown reason you need to know the purpose of any dial or switch. The important ones, the ones you'll actually use, will be explained during your training." Gamostein showed Winterbottom one of the manuals, which was double the thickness of the Manhattan phone book.
"Right now, I want you to see this." He pointed to a small computer screen and the keyboard below it. He patted it. "This is where the software that controls and monitors the chronoship resides. Let me demonstrate." He pressed a button, and a brightly colored menu appeared on the screen with the words Program Selection above it. The third item in the menu was Chronotravel Parameters. He selected this option with the mouse. Another menu appeared. The items were Current Date and Time, Destination Date and Time, Orbital Distance to Earth Zero, Map Coordinates and so forth. Next to each item was a series of numbers. For example, across from the Current date and time was 01:26:2052/16:11:35: followed by a blur after the last colon. When the 35 changed to 36 as Winterbottom watched, he nodded. Of course, this was the current date and time. He glanced at his watch to confirm. Since his watch was two minutes ahead, he reset it to the time on the screen.
After they explored the ship, Gamostein took him on a tour of the space station.
To read more about Charles Winterbottom's adventures, including the time he had dinner with Dracula, you may purchase it at Page Turner Editions or any other online e-book store. And now as a paperback at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.