Rust in Peace
by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson
and D.A. Madigan
part 1 of 2
The De Tinta lab was only an hour’s drive out of town, a low, unassuming building on two floors. Bob drove his car into its courtyard, and parked it between an ugly SUV and an even uglier minivan. He got out, and walked to the building. His friend Joe was waiting for him in the lobby.
Bob did not expect much. There wasn’t nearly enough security around the place for there to be anything important there to expect. Only one guy at the gate, and another in the lobby, both fat and lazy looking. Bob had often thought the complex was terrorist bait, and he backed the theory up with the fact that his old friend Joe was working there.
Now Joe claimed to have invented something, and he had been harping on Bob to come see his invention. He insisted on showing him the thing instead of just telling him what it was, and that sort of annoyed Bob. He thought it was just a glorified device to consume energy until terrorists decided the lab was a wonderfully soft and expensive target, and blew the place up.
Not so, said Joe.
And they went into the lift, and descended down to the 5th sub-level.
“There it is!” said Joe, as they entered the lab, pointing out a large gizmo at the end of the room.
Bob stared at the thing Joe claimed to have invented, shaking his head in disbelief: “That’s your invention?”
“Yes!” said Joe proudly.
“Where did you get it?”
“Get it? I made it, and you know what? It actually works!”
“Now you are kidding me! Come on! You can’t really expect me to believe that?”
“Because that’s that thing from that movie, you know, the one with the ancient Egyptians with the ray-guns.”
Joe looked at his invention for a while.
“Ohh... I can see it now... Damn, I thought it looked familiar. But it’s not a prop from a movie.”
“Oh, yes it is. Stop playing, I saw the movie.”
“It was a good flick. But this only slightly resembles it. Look, no ancient symbols.” Joe waved his hand toward the machine. It was dark gray, but plain, and really resembled the title Stargate from the movie, apart from the lack of mysterious symbols.
“The symbols were probably just CGI all the time.”
Joe gave up trying to convince Bob that his machine was not a movie prop, and instead signaled his lab partner to turn on the device. The device emitted a low hum, and in a moment sparks flew in the circle. In under a minute, everything within the ring faded, and it became dark grey and matte, like a painted wall.
Bob was impressed. “Cool. How did you do that?”
“So, what use is it? Why would anyone want a machine to make a spot of air opaque?”
“It’s a time machine.”
Bob grinned. “Sure it is.”
“Yep. Just step through the gate, and you will be in the future.”
“Hah! Okay. I’ll bite. How far in the future? A second?”
“A second? But that’s the time it takes to... sigh. It really is a time machine.”
“Really? So I could go back in time and meet Elvis?”
“I knew it.”
“I don’t mean that. I mean — you can’t travel back in time, because all that stuff has already happened, with you where you were at the time you were where you were, you understand?”
“No, but do continue.”
“It goes into the future.”
“How can I go into the future, if I can’t go into the past? Am I not where I am then like I was in the past? So there will be two me’s, a future me, and the me from now?”
“Shut up, you are confusing me.”
“You started it.”
“I can adjust how far into the future I go. I just set the date there at the computer.”
“And the machine goes with us?”
“No, it stays here.”
“How can we go back then?”
“The gate remains open during our visit. And get this: we can arrive back just one second after we entered, no matter how long we stay in the future.”
Bob shook his head in disbelief, and smiled at Joe’s silliness. A time machine? Yeah right! But as he had taken the time to go there, he decided to humor his friend, and follow him through the gate.
“How far into the future do you dare to go?” asked Joe.
“Oh, about 2,000 years ought to do it for me.”
“Two thousand years? I have only traveled to next week! But what the hell.”
Joe signaled his assistant, and he programmed the settings, and the timegate hissed.
“Year 4000 here I come!” said Bob, grinning, and walked toward the machine. Then he suddenly stopped dead in his tracks.
“Hey, I was just thinking, in 2,000 years, this cellar might not be here anymore.”
“And we just became buried alive in the future.”
“No. You see, the same space in 2000 years would actually be in space — among the stars space — because of how the earth moves. But when you walk through the gate, you will appear near the surface of the earth, about a foot above the ground, just in case.”
“How do you do that?”
“It involves a lot of math.”
Bob followed Joe through the gate.
Traveling through was accompanied by a strange, cold and dizzying feeling, after which Bob tripped and fell to the ground. It was quite a tumble, but luckily Joe broke his fall.
Joe let out a stream of curses as he stumbled to his feet. He had fallen on a pile of assorted debris, mainly cardboard boxes and trashbags, but also a few wooden sticks, some of which had nails through them. Joe plucked one of the sticks off his forearm, it dangled there on a nail. Growling and cursing ensued.
They were in an abandoned house. The windows were broken, but not boarded up. At some point they had been, but the boards had been broken or torn off, some to be found in the pile of junk Joe and Bob landed in. There were some furniture there, a sofa, a couple of chairs, the remains of a lamp and a small table. As they glanced around, they spotted at least three rats, casually walking around.
They walked out of the building. The city had expanded since the 21st century, and at some point, been laid to waste as well.
“This place looks like Detroit,” said Bob. “How did you do that?”
Not a car in sight. In the neighborhood they were in every tenth building had burnt to the ground, and the ashes had already been scattered by the winds. Weeds grew there. Every tenth building was completely covered in weeds. The remaining 80% were in various states of disrepair and collapse, and less than half covered in weeds. Grass seemed to have grown on the streets for a while too, some places grown over with moss.
“Nah. Too well grown to be Detroit,” replied Joe. Bob nodded. Detroit didn’t have so much moss on the streets.
“If this isn’t Detroit, then where are we?”
“In the future.”
Bob looked around. Perhaps this was just a part of Detroit he hadn’t seen yet.
They had walked for an hour when they spotted the first car. It was a burnt frame, grown over with moss, and grass grew out of what looked like the engine.
“Would you look at that!” said Joe.
“The car of the future. Yep. Nature friendly.”
Joe tore some of the greenery off the engine, and looked at it closer. It was rusted and weathered, but it did not take him long to identify what it was:
“It’s a fuel-cell powered electric motor.”
“Did you expect a hemi?”
“This proves that we are in the future.” Joe pointed at the wreck.
“No. This just proves that Detroit doesn’t like economy cars.”
“Where are the people then?”
“Driving somewhere, or at work. I have been to Detroit, you know. You can walk around for hours without seeing anyone. Why should the future be abandoned anyway?”
“Maybe just this one city is abandoned.”
“We haven’t even gone downtown yet, and you think the place is abandoned. Trust me, there has to be a Mcdonalds of the future somewhere around here, and there will be one or two people there.”
They walked toward the nearest skyscraper.
More and more cars caught their eye as they approached the city center. All of them were of an unfamiliar make, burnt and grown with moss. One had a tree growing out of it. Some of the houses also looked like they had been blown up, all spread around the yard, some had been vandalized in some unfamiliar manner also, partly crushed and scattered.
“They have a serious termite problem here,” commented Bob.
After an hour they were standing next to the skyscraper they had been walking toward. It was completely beyond repair. Most windows had been broken, some floors had collapsed, the lobby was so full of wreckage it was impossible to enter. Just next to it another tall building had collapsed into the street, into the building across, bringing it down too. Bob and Joe climbed over the rubble, and looked at the surroundings.
The place had been shot up, set on fire and broken. Then it had grown over with moss and flowers. A deer walked about between buildings, a little one following it. Bob spotted a wolf also, and a whole herd of cows was in the distance, grazing at the mall parking lot.
“Still think it’s Detroit?” asked Joe.
“Yes, but okay. I believe you. This has to be the Detroit of the future.”