Chapter 22


[New readers: to start at chapter 1, click Archives / November 2012 on right hand side]

Professor Flatt and Ludovic both turned to look at the chair on the wooden plinth. The machinery behind flickered and hummed.

“I’ve got lots of questions,” said Ludovic. “Where do the people go?”

“It’s only one person so far,” replied the Professor. “He goes to the same place every time. The vortex does not move your physical location.”

“Is it always the same time?”

“You mean does he always arrive in the same era?” She asked. “Yes. As far as we can tell the elapsed historic  period between the moment he travels and the moment he arrives is always constant. Just over three hundred and eighty-three years. If he travelled and returned two days ago and then travelled again today, two days would have passed at his destination. If he is there for two hours, then two hours will have passed here when he returns. Time is pretty much as Einstein described.”

“What does he do there?”

“He is proving that our experiment is working,” Professor Flatt looked at her screen. “We need to demonstrate to our sponsors that this really happens.”

“Do you mean he is collecting evidence and bringing it back?” Asked Ludovic.

“No,” the Professor said quietly. “It is not possible to bring anything back. It seems that objects have some sort of inertia in their own time. If he tries to carry something it is not here when he returns.”

“Shouldn’t you say ‘now’ and ‘then’, rather than ‘here’ and ‘there’?” Ludovic wondered.

“The language we use has not kept up with the technology,” said the Professor. “Nor have the ethics.”

Ludovic looked at her.

“Our experiment has raised a lot of issues about power and responsibility. At the moment we are keeping everything secret until we have absolute proof that it works.”

“You said that he is proving that the experiment works. If he can’t bring anything back, what is he doing?”

Professor Flatt pursed her lips. “He is leaving things there. Once we are confident in the process and the technology that we are using, we will publish our findings. When people have read our results they will ask for absolute proof. Then we will dig it up.”

“Dig it up? Archaeologically?”

Professor Flatt stretched forward in her chair and patted Ludovic’s knee. “Yes. An archaeologist will prove that the physicists are correct.”

Ludovic sat silently frowning then he smiled. “This could all be a hoax. You have found a way to deposit materials underground without disturbing the soil. You are going to create a media circus and then dig a hole and pull out some trinkets like a rabbit out of a hat.”

Professor Flatt did not smile. “Bones,” she said coldly. “We are going to dig a hole and find some bones.”

Ludovic opened his mouth and closed it again.

“Our proof is in the DNA,” she continued. “The traveller is called James Barry. He is going to leave his DNA in the past and we are going to find it. DNA evolves as each generation is born. James Barry’s DNA will be found four hundred years before James Barry was alive. That will be absolute proof.”

“The baby,” gasped Ludovic. “He fathered a child before he died.”

Miriam Flatt looked curiously at Ludovic. “James is not dead. He is alive and well. He is in this building. Why do you think he is dead?”

Ludovic shook his head. He paused and then asked, “why did you send Barry?”

The Professor gave a short laugh, “he was the only Welsh-speaking man at the institute.” She could see that Ludovic was confused. “We wanted to send a man rather than a woman because that was the quickest way to distribute DNA. The English language has changed since Shakespeare’s time. Welsh hasn’t changed as much and there were a lot of Welsh speakers in London at that time apparently. It was quite normal to encounter Welshmen who struggled to speak English fluently. In 1629 James Barry is a bad-mannered Welshman with plenty of gold who appears in a tavern very near here at regular intervals. No one seems particularly surprised by this, he claims.”

Professor Flatt stopped talking and sat watching Ludovic as he considered her words. She turned her attention back to the screen and keyboard. After a few moments she swivelled round to face Ludovic again.

“Do you want to travel?” She asked him. “You are a historian. You must be curious. You could be the first historian to see the past.”

Ludovic laughed. “Of course I want to travel. I’d love to believe this is true. But I don’t.”

A flicker of irritation crossed the Professor’s face. She moved her mouse, clicked on the screen and said, “look!”

A window opened on the screen and a video began to play. It showed a bearded man dressed in a drab brown coat and boots sitting on the chair in the middle of the room. The video was silent. After about ten seconds the man and the chair disappeared. One moment they were there, the next moment they were gone. Everything else in the scene was the same. Professor Flatt clicked the mouse and dragged the cursor across the screen. Ludovic watched the timer and saw twenty minutes elapse without the picture changing before she released the cursor and the video continued. The scene was exactly the same. After ten seconds the bearded man and the chair were suddenly there again. The man smiled, unstrapped the harness, stood up and stepped down off the plinth and walked out of shot towards the camera.

“Now you can tell me that the video is fake. That’s fine. We can go back upstairs. I’ll ask you to sign a non-disclosure agreement and you can continue scratching in the mud for relics.” Professor Flatt’s eyes glittered angrily.

Ludovic glanced at the chair. Looked at the screen and looked back at the Professor.

“I want to go,” he said. “ I want to go now.”

Professor Flatt nodded. She clicked the video window shut on the screen.

“OK. Sit in the chair.”

Ludovic stood up, walked around the bank of desks and climbed into the seat.

“Do up the harness,” said the Professor brusquely, “apparently the ride isn’t bumpy, but it’s just in case the chair tips over at the other end. The floor there is quite uneven.”

She turned her attention to the keyboard and the screen.

“How heavy are you?” She asked.

Ludovic hesitated. “Um. About seventy-six kilos I think. Does it need to be accurate?”

“No, not very. It’s just that your body has electrical resistance and we use body mass as a proxy for measuring it. Then we compensate for the resistance when we calibrate the power loading.”

Sitting in the chair, Ludovic pressed himself back and pulled the chest and waist straps tight. He rested one hand on the harness release button and put the other hand on his knee.

“What do I need to do to get back again?” He asked.

Professor Flatt looked up at him. She raised her eyebrows and clicked the mouse.

Everything disappeared.

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