Four minutes fifty-nine seconds. I tossed away my unneeded weapon, turned and sprinted for the stairs. There was no time to wait for an elevator. The blast would be enormous. The five flights of stairs took over two minutes. After a few gasping breaths I glanced at my watch. Must be getting old, I thought.
Two minutes twenty seconds. I ran through the building hallways to the front entrance. Bursting through the doors I headed straight for the guard shack. A furtive glance at my watch told me I probably wasn’t going to make it.
Ninety-two seconds. As I sprinted along I knew I had better find some kind of shelter fast if I was to have any chance at all.
Twenty seconds. A frantic glance around showed me a concrete culvert a few yards ahead. I dived into the drainage ditch and quickly crawled into the culvert ignoring the ten inches of cold water I was forced to lie in.
One second. I clamped my hands over my ears opened my mouth and waited. I didn’t have to wait long. Suddenly there was a muffled thump as the detonator exploded the first explosive block. Within a fraction of a second there was a horrific detonation as the fifty kilos went off. The ground shook like a mighty earthquake and tons of debris lifted into the air.
Everything moved as in slow motion. While waiting for the ground to stop its mighty shaking I sadly thought back to how it all started.
* * *
The large full page color advertisement grabbed my attention. “Time Vacations.” I couldn’t believe that they are putting it into production.
I slowly placed my coffee cup on the table as I scanned the rest of the ad. It said:
The EROS Corporation today unveiled it newest contribution to the world, Time Vacations. Tired of the same old vacation, EROS has the answer. Instead of traveling to a place, travel to a time. Imagine sitting in at the signing of the Declaration of Independence or riding with Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, all at no risk to you. Impossible you say. EROS says not at all. Don’t miss your chance, for more information and eligibility go to the website at www.TimeMasters.com.
We warned them, Sam and I, but they just didn’t want to listen. Now Sam was recently dead, a reported victim of a mugging gone wrong and I was no longer an EROS employee. Something definitely wasn’t right here.
I am Will Stevens. My best friend Doctor Sam Smith and I had been top EROS scientists. When the ancient artifact, the sarcophagus, was found in the temple ruins it was given to us to study.
After a little over ten months we had a breakthrough. The computer after hundreds of attempts was able to decipher the writing. Were we ever in for a shock once it was finished. The device had once belonged to a race called the “Watchers.” The device itself; a time portal.
Learning what the device was, that was only a small part of the problem. The major part: how to use it? The translated writing was astonishing to read. The device worked this way. A person would lay back, place the attached helmet on and pull the screen, much like a virtual reality visor, over their eyes. The sarcophagus was then closed and sealed. Once the device was activated it placed the person into stasis or suspended animation. The machine would open a small wormhole, not in space, but in time. The physical body of the time traveler would remain in the sarcophagus but the person’s consciousness, or life force, would travel through time to the designated date and location. Once arriving at the programmed location, the traveler would have all the sensations of actually being there. Since the traveler was in a quasi-alternate reality they would be invisible to the people of the visited time.
Actually getting the device to work wasn’t all that hard. With some reverse engineering we learned the inner workings of the control system. It utilized an electromagnetic power source. After a little fine tuning we hit the switch and powered it up. All that was needed was a test run.
Even before the first test run the idea of time vacations was born. What could be better than traveling to actually experience some of the world’s greatest moments without the physical discomfort of actually having to travel? Once the test period was complete and the time vacations put into action everyone within the corporation would be rich beyond their wildest dreams. Sam was the one that came up with the title of our project. He called it “Time Masters.”
The actual test run participant was decided by a coin flip. I won the toss. Before my first trip I had a complete bio-scan so that there would be a baseline for comparison when I returned. All that was left was picking a time and place. Being an avid student of military history I chose July 3, 1863 and the place, Gettysburg Pennsylvania. We decided that the first trip would be short, just long enough to insure the device worked as advertised. The timer was set for ten minutes.
I timidly climbed into the “coffin,” breathed a deep breath and pulled down the visor. Sam closed and sealed the lid then hit the send switch.
It was like screaming though space on a wild amusement park ride, all flashing lights and speed. The trip took only seconds. Suddenly I was there.
The smell of death hung heavy. Powder smoke obscured my vision. Blue-coated men and all manner of equipment were scattered about. To my rear was a field hospital with its ghastly smells and fly infested pile of severed limbs. I heard someone shout, “Here they come boys.” Looking down the hill I could just make out the first battle lines. This has got to be Pickett’s Charge, I thought.
The attack started from Seminary Ridge with what appeared to be two confederate divisions slowly marching eastward. Union batteries from Cemetery Hill to Little Round Top immediately opened fire on the advancing line. The Confederates kept coming and after some minutes, reformed their lines after crossing the Emmetsburg Road. I could see that the Confederates were within 400 yards when...
Suddenly I was home. Sam’s smile and expectant eyes were the first things I could see. A little groggy, it took a few moments to clear my head. The first words out of my mouth were, “Wow that was fantastic.” Only then did I attempt to reply the dozens of questions that were hurled at me.
Before the day was out, many other trips had been scheduled. It would take a number of them before the extent of the time travel problems became known.
Some weeks and several trips of varying lengths later, the knowledge of time travel consequences surfaced. The first problem was that of rapid aging. This in itself wasn’t of great concern to the scientists. The consensus was that unless someone was to take a trip of several months or years then the effects shouldn’t be harmful.
The second and much more dangerous problem was time ripples. After various trip schematics were evaluated, the computer noted that each trip caused a small ripple in time. Actually, when a traveler went back to a particular date and time a fragment of that time was used up or obliterated leaving a small gap. The longer the trip of course the greater the amount of lost time.
The consequences were staggering. If enough trips were taken to a particular time and place in essence that exact time and place could be changed, effectively changing the future. This also held true in the event where time wormholes crisscrossed each other. Enough crossings would leave a gap at the intersection of the crossings. The effects could be catastrophic.
Sam and I had gone to the corporate executives and demanded that they shut the program down. Our warnings fell on deaf ears and we were subsequently fired. Now my best friend was dead and “Time Masters” was going into full production.
* * *
I had been reflecting on all this as I slowly walked back to my apartment. Checking my mail I found a small audio-data disc package containing two discs. Curiosity aroused, I quickly went to room and slipped the first disc into the communications terminal. In a few seconds Sam’s voice filled the room. “Hello old friend. I’m afraid we may have some trouble.”
“Unfortunately,” it continued after a short pause, “the trouble is of my doing. Let me start at the beginning. If you remember at the last I was working on a theory about what would happen if one of the time travelers should actually have physical contact with someone from the past. My theory was that the traveler’s life force could actually interface with a current being but that it would be extremely dangerous. I’m afraid that it has happened.
“I had lunch with one of our old colleagues the other day, Doctor Wilma Rogers; I don’t think you knew her. Anyway, she told me that one of the new EROS scientists found my research papers and decided to test the theory. He traveled back and made actual physical contact with a local. According to his notes, his consciousness entered the body of the local and took over, ejecting the local’s own life force. It would appear that only one consciousness could be present at a time. With the new life force being the strongest, he was able to physically use the local’s body as his own.
“Sadly, once he left to return to our time, the body had no life force of its own and was dead. The possible harmful costs of this finding could be overwhelming. An unscrupulous traveler could go back to a particular time and by assuming the physical person of a local could actually change the future. That is completely unacceptable.”
Stopping the playback, I thought, my God, what have we done? It’s bad enough that they are destroying time and could accidentally alter the future. Now they have the ability to actually change the future to suit their own needs. This has really gotten out of hand.
Resuming the audio I listened. “Will, I’m afraid the situation has gotten entirely out of control. A couple of days ago I found out that Wilma is dead. A home accident was the reported cause but the details sounded a little hard to believe. Anyway, yesterday I had a visit from EROS’s internal security. They wanted to know what I had been told by Wilma and how much I knew. I pretended no knowledge of what they were asking, but I don’t think they believed me. When they left they reminded me of the confidentiality agreement that we signed and implied a threat that something more could happen if I opened my mouth.
“Will, you know me; I couldn’t let it go at that. You know as well as I that they have to be stopped before they really do something foolish and harmful. I made a conscious decision to do two things. First I would record everything that I know and provide it to my friend Jonas Hoskins at the newspaper hoping that scandal would somehow make them see the light. A copy of the record I made is the second disc I have sent you.”
I stopped the audio again. Looking at the second disc I thought, I wonder if he sent the disc. I guess I should check with Mister Hoskins and find out. Wait a minute, Sam said two things, what else did he do?
Turning back to the console I restarted the audio. “Next, I am going to do something that should have been done a long time ago. I am sure that no amount of scandal will deter the EROS execs, so I am going to destroy the time portal. I am sending you this for one reason. If you receive it then I was not successful. It’s up to you now to see that what needs to be done gets done. Goodbye old friend.”
With that the audio ended. I just sat for a few moments to let it sink in. I felt tightness in my chest and a tear trickled down my cheek. So that’s what happened, he tried to destroy the portal and they killed him. Yes, I decided, Sam was right. The only real way to stop EROS was to destroy the portal. Just how to do it was the question.
Later that day I decided to put Sam’s audio discs in a safe place. A quick glance as I left the apartment showed two men in a parked car that appeared to be working hard at ignoring me. I felt a shiver up and down my spine as I hurried to the bank and my safe deposit box. The uneasy feeling remained until I had safely deposited the disc and headed home. Opening my door I confronted two men waiting in my apartment.
“Hey, just what do you think you’re doing,” I shouted.
“Take it easy Stevens,” said the first man. “We’re from EROS Internal Security and need to ask you some questions.”
“I don’t have to answer any of your questions; you’re not from the police.”
“Look mister,” the second one said, “we can do this the hard way, or the easy way. Either way is okay with me.” He looked like he meant it as he started to unbutton his coat.
I knew that antagonizing the pair would do no good so I replied. “Okay fellows, settle down. What is it you want?
“When was the last time you spoke with or heard from Doctor Smith?”
“Sam? Well, I haven’t seen or talked to him since our last workday at EROS, must be over two months ago. I heard that he was killed in a mugging. What’s this all about?”
“We’ll ask the questions here,” said the first man. “Are you sure you haven’t seen or talked to him? What about Doctor Wilma Rogers?”
“I already told you I haven’t been in contact with Sam. I don’t know any Doctor Rogers.”
The men stopped talking for a moment and glared fiercely at me. Finally the first one said, “Okay, I guess you don’t know anything. Just remember this mister, if you know what’s good for you you’ll keep your mouth shut about anything that concerns EROS. The consequences of your confidentiality statement might just be the least of your worries.” With that he and the other man turned and stalked out the door.
Sam was right I thought, some shady business going on there. I have to do something. A fast trip to the yellow pages got me the phone number of the local newspaper. I rang up and asked for Jonas Hoskins. A strained voice came on the line.
“May I help you please?”
“Is this Jonas Hoskins?”
“I’m afraid Jonas isn’t available. I’m his assistant Henry Wilson. Can I help you?”
“Look Mister Wilson, it’s imperative that I speak to Mister Hoskins. Is there any way I can get in touch with him? I need to speak with him right away.”
“I’m sorry. I’m afraid that’s quite impossible. Jonas was found dead this morning, an apparent home invasion gone wrong.” His tone indicated that he really didn’t believe it. “Is this concerning something he was working on Mister, what did you say your name is?”
I quickly placed the phone in the cradle. Dead. I can’t believe it. It had to be EROS. Three people dead seem just like to much of a coincidence. There’s just too much money at stake. Okay Sam, I guess you’re right. The time portal must be destroyed before irreversible harm is done. I’ll have to do it myself, somehow.
* * *
The next morning I walked the two short blocks to my favorite sidewalk cafe. I had spent most of the night trying to devise a workable plan to destroy the time portal. I had developed and then rejected several and still wasn’t any closer to having a good practical one. I have just had to do something; I owed Sam and the others that much.
As I reached to stir my coffee I dropped my spoon. Bending over to pick it up saved my life.
I heard a sudden loud bang like a balloon popping and my coffee cup shattered. It took a second for my fatigued mind to register what had happened. Then a second bang as a bullet clanged off the back of my metal chair. Without conscious thought I lunged to my feet and crashed through the cafe doorway falling heavily to the floor. Quickly glancing around I saw the shooter on a roof across the street pull in his weapon and quickly leave.
While waiting for the police to arrive I reasoned that the EROS goons must have bugged my phone and heard me call the newspaper. My thoughts raged. I guess they wanted to make sure that I don’t do any talking. I’m afraid they made a mistake this time because I didn’t plan on going down easily. I’m going to end this and make them pay, Sam, I promise.
The police interview took about thirty minutes. On the way back to my apartment I made my decision. Stopping at the corner drugstore I made some phone calls from the old-fashioned wooden phone booth. Finally after quite some doing I was able to get in touch with a friend of a friend. In a few minutes I had set up everything.
At nine P.M. I drove down to the wharf area and in one of the back alleys met with a shady character named Maurice. For a quick two thousand dollars I was able to pick up the things that had been suggested. Now all I had to do was put the plan into motion.
* * *
At three A.M the next morning I drove out to EROS headquarters. The building was in a wooded area about three quarters of a mile off the main highway. Hiding my car behind some bushes on a dirt track leading off the main drive I silently crept to the guard shack.
My plan was to overpower the guard, tie him up and proceed from there. It didn’t happen exactly that way. As I stepped up to the guard shack the guard happened to look up. Startled, we instantly recognized each other. The guard had been the shooter on the roof. He immediately went for his holstered pistol but I was faster.Pulling out the .380 silenced automatic I had purchased from Maurice, I fired quickly striking him in the chest and dropping him instantly.
Quickly moving to the main building I used the dead guard’s identification card to gain entry. The EROS headquarters from the outside looked like a squat one story office building. Hidden were the five sublevel floors where most of the R&D, research and development were done. The fifth and lowest of the sublevels was completely devoted to the time portal R&D and was where the sarcophagus and control unit was located. That was my final destination.
I took the elevator down to level five. I wanted to make sure nothing had changed from my employee days. It was just the same, sarcophagus, control station and all. Sprinting to the stairs I moved to level four where the explosive R&D was conducted. From past experience I knew that there should be sufficient explosives available to complete my plan. In the storage room I found a wooden pallet stacked with approximately fifty kilo sized bars of plastic explosive. It was the new super high intensity PE 12 that I had heard about. It was rumored that as little as five kilos of PE 12 could bring down a four-story office building. Fifty kilos should do nicely, I thought.
Using a nearby hand truck and the freight elevator, I took the pallet of explosives down one level and parked it right beside the sarcophagus. I pulled out the other item I had gotten from Maurice, a five-minute timer detonator. I pushed into one of the lower blocks of PE-12. Maurice had assured me that one block exploding would cause all to explode. I knew the blast radius would be enormous and that I just might not have time to get away. Setting my wristwatch for five-minute countdown I took a deep breath and pushed the detonator timer button.
* * *
A loud crash of heavy falling debris returned my thoughts to the present. At first I couldn’t hear anything, the force of the blast had been so deafening. After some minutes when the falling debris had stopped I crawled from my hiding place to have a look. Where the building had been was only a giant smoking hole at least four to five stories deep filled with tons of rubble.
I figured I had better get out of here before the emergency crews arrived. Jogging down to my car I quickly headed to the main highway. In the distance I could see flashing lights on the road heading toward me. Without hesitation I turned in the other direction and drove away.
An hour or so later I made my way back to my apartment. I had never killed anyone before so I really didn’t know how I should feel. Was I sorry? No, not really. To protect the time travel device they had killed Sam, Doctor Rogers, Jonas Hoskins and had attempted to kill me. Well there wouldn’t be any more time travel, at least with that device.
Faintly I could hear the mournful sounds of bagpipe music floating on the evening air. Out my window I could see a funeral possession slowly moving down the deserted street. As the lovely sad music slowly passed me by I thought, how appropriate, a requiem for “Time Masters.”
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