The Oxford-MIT Time Reduction and Manipulation project proved to be a boon for the world of physics at the beginning of the twenty-third century. Initial test results with formulas garnished from fifty years of research demonstrated that time travel was not only possible, but under the right circumstances the universe had to bend over backwards on itself for time travel not to happen. This made it easier to tear small holes in the fabric of space-time. At least, that was what they wrote in the layman’s report given monthly to the president of the United Atlantic States for his review. The real physics behind it was much more difficult to comprehend, but that didn’t stop billions of dollars from being funneled to the project each year through special channels in order to facilitate research and development.
What began as an accidental discovery in a small London lab had transformed to something tangible in fifty years. Sutherland Nichols, the father of time travel, passed away two weeks after the UAS picked up his research, but a small team of eager scientists was seeing the end result of their labor and his ingenuity.
Dr. Carlos Lucas Mariana, lead quantum specialist and head engineer for the project, had stayed late one October evening to put the finishing touches on his machine, his baby. All the tests so far had indicated that the machine was ready for use, even though no one had practically applied it yet. The team wanted it to be perfect first – that way, any test would run without a hitch.
It was almost ready, and Dr. Mariana would be demonstrating the technological marvel the very next morning in front of a number of military and government officials. Dr. Mariana winced at the thought, and as he did so, the muscles in his face curled into a disgusted frown. He also had to give a talk about superstring theory to people who wouldn’t be able to understand half of the terms he used and wouldn’t care less. They would merely ask him questions about the military and social applications of his work, and that would be that. As if he liked to speak in public to begin with; in five years, Dr. Mariana had made just as many public appearances and only two public lectures. He would’ve much rather been in the lab. Let everyone else give talks, that was his philosophy.
“There,” he whispered, snapping a tiny microchip into place in the rounded handle of the device. Dr. Mariana had taken great pains to encode all of the research documents, plans, and design specifications on to that microchip for safekeeping. No better place to store the data than on the prototype, which would no doubt be kept under tightly classified lock and key until production began. The field units would not contain such a microchip, lest they fell into enemy hands.
Of course, if one fell into enemy hands to begin with, there was trouble to be had. The team’s next course of study and development would be a remote deactivation device for these machines in case of that very instance. For now, though, that didn’t matter. They had a new toy that was almost ready to play with. The good doctor simply had to finish putting it together.
Dr. Mariana hurriedly gathered up all the papers on his desk and shoved them off with a sweeping motion into a box, ready and waiting nearby. After punching in a number of keystrokes on his computer, Dr. Mariana hefted the box and took it to the wall. He lifted a panel and gave the box a shove into a chute that carried it down to a flaming incinerator, never to be heard from again. The United Atlantic States government didn’t want other countries to get their hands on hard-earned and potentially dangerous trade secrets. Any rogue physicist with half a brain could reverse engineer the time machine if they worked long and hard enough, especially if the plans were embedded inside it.
Dr. Mariana smiled as he heard the roar of the flames shoot up through the incinerator, effectively erasing all of the research he and his colleagues had accumulated. This had been a very specific prerequisite to the use of the time machine. Finally, everything was in order. He hurried back to his desk.
It would only be prudent to take it for a test run, in the name of science. And, of course, Dr. Mariana reasoned with himself, to make sure it would work the following morning when he took it in all the bigwigs to see. Yes, yes. Must be sure it’s functioning properly, or they’d be skeptical. Pull his funding.
“And since I’m the only one who knows how to operate it,” he reasoned further, “I should be the one to test it.” His heart fluttered into his chest. The excitement hit him at last; he had known it was going to. Mankind’s very first journey through time. He felt like Neil Armstrong, save for the fact that no one was watching him on TV. Nobody even knew he was working this late, save for the time-clock, his secretary, and his friend Max, who had wanted to take Carlos out for a drink three hours prior. The steadfast physicist kindly refused the offer.
The machine sat on his desk; Dr. Mariana gripped the device solidly by its handle. His team of brilliant physicist engineers had held a two-hour brainstorming session toward the beginning of the prototyping project. He recalled with amusement at how each of them had their own ideas about what form the final product should take. They had all agreed on his suggestion – an umbrella. It was perfect for focusing the required energy, and it could be enlarged to any size. There were actually plans for an umbrella large enough to shadow the UAS buildings in Washington, London, and Paris, somewhere in the laboratory database. Nobody had any idea why they were there, yet, but there they were.
He swung the heavy umbrella up over his head and opened it up full. The middle-aged man looked like he was about to walk into the middle of a rainstorm. Instead, he was fidgeting with a couple of small buttons just above the handle. He slid open the display and checked it.
Dr. Mariana thought long and hard about the period he wanted to visit, and when he had made his decision, he set the time refraction. He would be traveling two hundred years prior, just before the turn of the 21st century. It registered into memory. Dr. Mariana also checked the connection with the energy transmitter; it was active.
The beauty of the time machine was that it could draw its own charge from another time period, via a very small hole that could fit an enormous volume of energy. It wasn’t his specialty in the project, but Dr. Mariana knew that so long as the time machine had a rechargeable battery within it to hold the second connection, it could draw power up to a certain distance and time away from the transmitter. Five minutes of energy was all they needed.
So, they had turned on the energy transmitter for five minutes and one second. Every time the time machine would require power, it would connect to the time and place the transmitter powered up and let the necessary energy flow into the machine to run it as well as recharge the battery. The process was foolproof.
The energy connection was stable. He had picked a time. All the rest of the settings would default, and that was fine. Dr. Mariana was more anxious to travel than he was to activate all the bells and whistles. There would be time enough for that later. Time enough, indeed.
He gleefully pressed the activate button and confirmed it by entering the three-digit code that flashed up the spine, for verification purposes – you didn’t want to be able to bump into the thing and have it turn on, did you?
The verification completed. The umbrella-cum-time machine powered up, and the delicate, amazing instruments built into it began to do what they did best. Space-time warped around Dr. Mariana, and the machine tore a hole just large enough for him to fit through. The universe swallowed him up; it was the only thing it could do to him.
Dr. Mariana’s labs were inside beautifully designed federal research buildings that had been modeled in the fashion of “neo-nineties,” a renaissance in building theory that had brought back styles found mainly at the end of the twentieth century. It was exactly that period – the turn of the second millennium after Christ – that intrigued Dr. Mariana most. The two federal research buildings were located in Boston, Massachusetts, on the very same spot that a large public park used to sit. Dr. Mariana usually worked on the eighty-seventh floor. When he traveled two hundred years back, the universe swallowed him up and spit him out in the same physical location of his departure, relative to the earth’s magnetic poles.
Thanks to two hundred years of engineering, fifty years of physics research, and billions of dollars in funding and development, the time machine was fully equipped for an eighty-seven-story drop onto a grassy park. Thanks to human stupidity and poor evolution, Dr. Mariana was not.
The umbrella would land solidly, perhaps damaging any bird or park bench it happened to encounter on the way down. Gravity would not be so kind to Dr. Mariana.
It was in this way that the Oxford-MIT Time Reduction and Manipulation project was scrapped the next morning, upon learning of the unfortunate disappearance of Dr. Mariana. Many higher-ups in the government believed that he had escaped with the technology to a foreign country with the technology, eager to sell it for outrageous profits and cause a weak, rebel nation to rise into power. That very week, the congress of the United Atlantic States passed a ban on time-travel technology and research, along with a number of heavy sanctions on any country that would follow Dr. Mariana’s footsteps. The Quantum Transportation Act marked the end of time travel, as far as the UAS was concerned.
Dr. Mariana was not heard from again. His story ends here.
…But the story of the time-traveling umbrella does not.